Ecstasy and Death, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, April 2013

This intriguing triple bill is the first programme artistic director Tamara Rojo has put together for the Company, and she even dances in it herself.

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

The second item Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is worth the whole programme, and on the first night Rojo was the coolly callous young woman, with Nicolas le Riche, star of the Paris Opéra Ballet, as the young painter driven to madness by her strangely cold attraction. Roland Petit’s gloriously expressive choreography shows him to be in a state of nervous tension and exhaustion, and le Riche gave a riveting portrayal of his emotional despair. Two other performers will dance the role in the present run of performances, guest artist Ivan Putrov and Company member Fabian Reimair. As the girl, Tamara Rojo in her yellow dress, and later the mask of death, showed superb manipulation and indifference.

This extraordinary 1946 work, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau, formed an electrifyingly creative collaboration in post-Liberation Paris. For the music, he and Petit finally settled on Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor — at the dress rehearsal! The Bach was very strongly played under principal conductor Gavin Sutherland who gave fine musical direction to the evening, with Chris Swithinbank at the piano in Mozart’s Concertos K488 and K467 for the first item Petite Mort.

Petite Mort

Petite Mort

The French term la petite mort is an idiomatic euphemism for sexual orgasm, and the rapiers in Jiří Kylián’s choreography suggest a dichotomy between assertiveness and oblivion for the six couples. The men performed superbly with their rapiers, setting them in motion on the stage as if moving in unison of their own accord. Excellent rehearsal preparation must have led to this precision, and the unusual and very physical choreography was crisply and energetically performed by the twelve dancers.

Etudes

Etudes

The Company is at the top of its game, and the final Etudes was beautifully danced. Choreography is by Harald Lander, director of the Royal Danish Ballet, who created this work in 1948 to orchestral music by Knudåge Riisager, based on Czerny’s renowned piano exercises. It reveals a ballet class with a difference, as it starts with twelve girls in black tutus at the barre forming four sets of three, then three sets of four, each set in unison but different from the others. It then slowly opens out to other dancers, ending with nearly forty on stage. As the leading girl, Erina Takahashi showed lovely gentle movements, and her partners James Forbat, Esteban Berlanga and Vadim Muntagirov danced with fine precision. Muntagirov in particular showed a relaxed nobility of posture and line that was very attractive.

This  triple bill shows the Company to perfection, and performances continue until April 21 — for details click here.

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