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Estonian National Ballet - 'Shannon Rose'

by Stuart Sweeney

March 17 , 2005 -- Estonian Opera House, Tallinn, Estonia

The Estonian National Ballet already has a fine example of contemporary ballet theatre with Luciano Cannito’s “Cassandra”, and now they have added a second with their recent premiere of “Shannon Rose” by Youri Vàmos. The Hungarian choreographer created this ballet nine years ago for Bayerische Staatsoper, basing it on the film “Ryan’s Daughter” and setting it to an assemblage of music by Sibelius.

The tragic story of Rose, a romantic dreamer, portrays her marriage to a friendly, but dull, schoolteacher and an amour fou with a wounded English officer, against the charged, political backdrop of an Irish village rebelling against English occupation. Expressionist sets by Michael Scott employ broad sweeps of red paint to create a tense atmosphere, enhanced by forbidding lighting by Klaus Gärditz. The narrative is clear, but the demands of the story dictate that the first half has a number of short scenes, sometimes with insufficient time to fully make their mark before we shift to the next.

Vàmos uses a mix of ballet and contemporary dance vocabulary with only the romantic Rose on pointe. In contrast to the heroine, the earthy villagers make their first appearance with legs swinging wide, their vitality and passionate hatred for the English captured in their jagged steps. Vàmos told dancers rehearsing a duet: “I don’t want “Sleeping Beauty” – it’s a beautiful ballet, but not what I want”. The wedding night celebration features sensual choreography for the corps, culminating with pairs of villagers clashing stools together in an imaginative sexual metaphor. From this group, Daniel Kirspuu as the Head of the Rebels is a great mover and Heidi Kopti, as his wife, attacks her role with fiery abandon.

Marina Chirkova as Rose is the character that makes the longest journey from bright girl to dreamy young woman to a finally, obsessed lover of her English officer. She is a fine actress and her emotionally charged dancing embodies the essence of the ballet. Vladimir Arhangelski plays the schoolmaster who initially resists Rose, but eventually succumbs, only to disappoint her romantic ideals. Even with make-up to age him, the handsome Arhangelski remains a heart-throb and one friend told me she would trade places with Rose any day. Nevertheless, his portrayal of the cuckolded husband is convincing, and in the second half, his anguished solos provide an excellent counter-balance to the illicit love duets, accompanied by violin solos exquisitely played by Andrus Haav.

In previous productions, Linnar Looris has made an impact with his jetées and strong stage presence. However, as the English Officer he dances with a precision I haven’t seen before; his duets with Chirkova send sparks flying and the final tragic scenes are full of pathos. Vàmos has clearly inspired this young dancer to new heights and I understand that all the dancers were pleased to have the opportunity to work with this creator of powerful dance theatre. “Shannon Rose” will doubtless become a regular feature in the Estonian National Ballet’s programming and should help to give the Company the international recognition it deserves.


Edited by Staff.

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