Petit Triple Bill
English National Ballet
21st & 23rd (mat)
Roland Petit’s works have a chequered history of performance in Britain and when English National Ballet announced plans for an evening of his works it caused a ripple of excitement amongst the London ballet goers. I heard from one of ENB’s dancers that the great man himself would come over for the occasion but sadly it wasn’t to be and tragically Petit died shortly before the opening. ENB’s director, Wayne Eagling, made a speech in front of the curtain on the first night that reflected everyone’s sorrow at the choreographer’s demise and it was also sad to hear that Petit’s widow, Zizi Jeanmaire, was too ill to attend.
The opening work was L’Arlésienne a tale of unrequited love and a wedding day that goes disastrously wrong when the groom is overcome by his obsession with the girl from Arles. The corps de ballet is a vital component to the ballet, Provençal peasants supporting the disintegrating couple and taking on the role of a Greek chorus, the choreography for them is a delight – especially the cheeky quote from Balanchine’s Serenade. On the opening night the leading couple, Erina Takahashi and Estaban Berlanga were both very good, but a couple of days later their respective performances had really developed with Berlanga full of explosive anguish, tormented by a memory that was eating into his very soul leaving Takahashi helpless in her feeble efforts to try to restore his sanity.
I remember watching a video of Le Jeune Homme et La Mort over and over again in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris when it was a centrepiece of an exhibition about the life of Rudolf Nureyev. La Mort in that film was an enigmatic Zizi Jeanmaire, with neither dancer in the original costumes and with the final rooftop scene omitted, I still regard it as something of a benchmark performance of the work as no one I’d seen since matched the intensity of their interpretations even though I harboured a suspicion that Nureyev’s glamour in his role might not have been in tune with the original intentions. Thursday night’s Jeune Homme was the very youthful looking Yonah Acosta bringing a highly individual approach to the role that bowled me over eclipsing anything I’d seen before. Acosta gave a performance and a half of raw physicality and strength hurling himself across the stage with reckless passion and abandon. His nemesis was Anaïs Chalendard, so ultra chic and thoroughly wicked that it was hardly a surprise to discover she was death in human form. She taunted and bewitched whilst her poor victim suffered and finally surrendered to her will: an amazing pairing of opposites that really brought what is after all a work very much of its time to vibrant life.
At the Saturday matinee the title role was entrusted to Anton Lukovkin who gave a more conventional reading to the Young Man and indeed bears a slight resemblance to the role’s creator, Jean Babilee. Here the balance between the couple was quite different with Jia Zhang less an otherworldly La Mort, more a regular feminine temptress and whereas fear and anger permeated the first night coupling, there was more of a sexual frisson with these two, though ultimately Jia Zhang seemed much too nice a girl for the role: a tease perhaps but not a killer.
Carmen is too gimmicky for my taste (how I wish they had danced Le Loup instead) but it is an audience pleaser. The first night Carmen, Begoña Cao made a good stab at the part but her partner Fabian Reimair was too cold a fish to convince us he would ever be foolish enough to fall for Carmen’s wild charms. The second cast pairing of Anaïs Chalendard and Daniel Kraus was the opposite: a chilly Carmen and a far more passionate Don Jose.
Although the three ballets featured two suicides, two murders and simulated sex, the shock value of the works today revolved around so many in the cast smoking on stage, just about everyone seemed to comment on it particularly over whether it is legal to smoke in the workplace if the workplace is a stage and wasn’t it a fire hazard? Seems ENB applied and got a special dispensation, but how attitudes change. I doubt if anyone batted an eyelid over the odd cigarette when these works were created.