Posts Tagged ‘Bach’

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

19 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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Petit Triple Bill: L’Arlésienne, Le jeune homme et la mort, Carmen, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, July 2011

23 July, 2011

Roland Petit died less than two weeks ago, and the remarkable timing of this triple bill made it a wonderful tribute to his choreography. That I happened to go on July 22, rather than the first night was entirely fortuitous, and we were rewarded by an incredible performance of Le jeune homme brilliantly danced by guest artist Ivan Vasiliev, shown in the photo below and making his debut with the company.

Ivan Vasiliev in Jeune Homme, photo by Laurent Liotardo

I’ll come back to this wholly unexpected treat later, but things started more gently with L’Arlésienne, based on a short story and play by Alphonse Daudet. It expresses the anguish and eventual suicide of a young man who cannot forget a woman in Arles. Despite having a lovely fiancée and a group of peasant friends who try to support him, he descends into madness and ends up throwing himself out of a window. The choreography is intriguing, and reminiscent of that wonderful Ballets Russes work Les Noces, showing a wedding ceremony in a tightly knit peasant society. The music for L’Arlésienne was written by Bizet for the original play, and will be familiar from two orchestral suites that are often played. The ensemble dancing was excellent, and Erina Takehashi gave a lovely portrayal of the girl, so full of life. By contrast the young man is heading for death, and although Esteban Berlanga danced it with huge energy, warming to the agony as the ballet progressed, his emotion seemed unconvincing.

Esteban Berlanga in L'Arlésienne, photo by Simon Tomkinson

Carmen, the last item on the programme, is great fun, but to those who know Bizet’s opera the music is not always used for the same scenes in the ballet, and the characterisation is confusing. Don Jose with his cape looks more like a toreador than a simple soldier, and the Toreador himself, who comes in towards the end, is rather too camp. But Adela Ramirez as the Bandit girl was sexy, sassy and adorable, very well supported by Juan Rodriguez and Joshua McSherry-Gray as the bandits. Fabian Reimair was a stylish Don Jose, proudly assertive at the start yet showing a slow descent to desperation, and Begoña Cao was a fiercely cold Carmen. More warmth and emotion from the two main characters would have been welcome, but that had already come in bucketfuls from Ivan Vasiliev in the second item of the programme.

Begoña Cao and Fabian Reimair in Carmen, photo by Patrick Baldwin

Vasiliev was quite extraordinary, and apparently wanted to dance  Jeune Homme as a tribute to Roland Petit’s widow Zizi Jeanmaire. He gave it everything: enormous feeling, terrifying acrobatics, and hugely suppressed desire and emotion. His nemesis was Jia Zhang as the girl — the femme fatale who takes him to his death. She was superbly controlled and manipulative, and immensely desirable in her yellow dress. As he grasped her wrist he gave her a look of quiet desperation, and the two of them together created a glorious effect. In the final minute and a half the room vanishes and we see rooftops. It’s a fabulous set, costing an arm and a leg, but worth every penny, and this was a truly memorable occasion. Wonderful conducting by Benjamin Pope, particularly of the Bach music for Jeune Homme.

We don’t see enough of Roland Petit’s work in this country so go to this if you have the chance. Performances continue until July 24 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Electric Counterpoint, Asphodel Meadows, Carmen, Covent Garden, May 2010

5 May, 2010

Pennefather and Nuñez in Scarlett's fine new ballet Asphodel Meadows, photo by Johan Persson

Asphodel Meadows is a very interesting new ballet by Liam Scarlett, to Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra. There were fourteen dancers plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first was beautifully danced by Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather with lovely elegant movements, the second more spicily by Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside, and the third fluidly and fast by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. Costumes were leotards for the boys and simple skirts and tops for the girls, bluish/beige for the fourteen dancers, with dark brown, charcoal, and crimson, in that order, for the principals in the three movements. I thought the designs by John Macfarlane were excellent, as was the lighting by Jennifer Tipton. It all lasted a little under 25 minutes and was a delight to watch. The title is interesting. Asphodel is a type of lily, and the name is from ancient Greek. Meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.

Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson in Electric Counterpoint, photo by Dee Conway

This new ballet was sandwiched between works that were performed within the last two years. The programme started with Christopher Wheeldon’s Electric Counterpoint, to music by Bach and Steve Reich, played by Robert Clark on the piano and James Woodrow on the solo guitar. It appealed to me much more than when I saw it in early 2008, though the cast was almost identical, with Edward Watson, Sarah Lamb, Leanne Benjamin and Eric Underwood — last time, Benjamin’s role was performed by Zenaida Yanowsky. In the first part each dancer appears alone, starting with Sarah Lamb. There is a wall facing the audience on which is projected another version of Sarah Lamb, dancing as if she were a mirror image. Gradually, however, the dancer and her image go disconcertingly out of phase with one another, but later there is little connection between dancer and image. During this first section, along with the piano music by Bach, there is a recorded voice-over by the dancer who is performing, giving personal details of their life and motivation. In the second part the wall facing the audience vanishes and there is another wall at an oblique angle, with four doors through which the dancers appear. The electronic music is accompanied by guitar, and there is pas-de-deux work as well as solo dancing. It lasts thirty minutes, which I found well spent, and I liked the designs by Jean-Marc Puissant and the lighting by Natasha Chivers.

After seeing this, followed by Asphodel Meadows, the evening didn’t need spoiling with Mat Eks’ dreadful Carmen, and I’m delighted they put it as the third item on the bill, so I could happily leave.

Goldberg, The Brandstrup-Rojo project, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, September 2009

22 September, 2009

brandstrup[1]

This was a new work by Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, played on the piano by Philip Gammon, with some parts pre-recorded by Henry Roche. There were seven dancers: Tamara Rojo, Steven McRae and Thomas Whitehead from the Royal Ballet, along with Clara Barbera, Laura Caldow, Tommy Franzen and Riccardo Meneghini. Things started slowly with Tamara Rojo in a black dress and pointe shoes, McRae sitting next to Philip Gammon on the piano, and then getting up to climb a very tall ladder. Gradually the dance warmed up, with a mixture of ballet and ‘street dancing’. Among the four cast members not in the Royal Ballet, Tommy Franzen was brilliantly musical and wonderfully acrobatic, looking like a slightly undersized teenager in his baggy pants, but what a dancer! His occasional partnering of Rojo was very well done, and his musicality shone through, both in his solos and his dancing with the others. Clara Barbera was also excellent, part of the time on pointe and part in bare feet. McRae was musical as usual, and his solos were expertly danced. Rojo too inhabited the music brilliantly, her stage presence was excellent and she came over strongly as the star of the show. As the variations progressed, things seemed to drag a little and I waited for a climax that never came. The momentum slowed and everything wound down, but without seeming to go anywhere.

Costumes were black for Rojo, McRae and Whitehead, grey for the others, and the lighting by Paule Constable was subdued throughout. It showed occasional white lines against a dark background, giving a sense of geometric design, which was presumably the idea of designer Richard Hudson. The designs and lighting worked well, and Philip Gammon’s piano performance was excellent. This is definitely worth a visit to see the eclectic style of choreography, and the dancing of Rojo, McRae, and Franzen.