Saturday, 23 July 2011

Roland Petit triple bill

Roland Petit’s Carmen with Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and L’Arlésienne, English National Ballet, London Coliseum – reviewed on 22nd July

English National Ballet’s night of works by Roland Petit has proved sadly timely following the Frenchman’s death just two weeks ago. Known for focusing on male torment and mortality, the choreographer uses simple but powerful movements to convey darkly dramatic stories.

In L’Arlésienne, a young man (Esteban Berlanga) is driven mad by his unrequited love for an unseen woman, despite his fiancée’s (Erina Takahashi) desperate attempts to gratify him. To beautifully grand music by Georges Bizet and a mountainous Van Gogh backdrop, the dancers were able to imbue Petit’s minute movements (holding hands, tapping the toe) with all of their intended meaning. Berlanga was unwavering and yearning, Takahashi was despairing and vulnerable; together their awkward, jerky movements and contrasting typical ballet pas de deux suited perfectly the impenetrability of the characters’ circumstances. The corps, frequently acting as puppeteers to manipulate the lead couple’s bodies, moved with exceptional synchronicity and conviction. This utterly engaging ballet was taken to its striking conclusion with the most untiring momentum and tenacity.

For one performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort only, Bolshoi dancer Ivan Vasiliev joined the company to pay personal tribute to Petit. Famously performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1980s movie White Nights, the Young Man role in the ballet is an acrobatically difficult one, but can only be convincing when the dancer has the passion to back up its athletic choreography. Vasiliev attacked the role with compelling dynamism, leaping furiously around his apartment in persuasively desperate anticipation of his lover’s arrival. Jia Zhang, debuting in the role of the Girl, was unreservedly cruel and sexy – in a yellow dress and black gloves, she mesmerised the poor man and dared him to take his own life. Totally under her spell, Vasiliev hanged himself centre-stage in a disturbingly haunting and yet exquisite image.

The main billing of the evening, Carmen, was the weakest of the three but still hugely enjoyable. In this exuberant ballet, Begoňa Cao as the title role was attractive and seductive, but at times lacked the character’s vigour. Fabian Reimair was a technically-adept and ardent Don José and James Streeter excelled in the supporting role of the Torreador. Again the corps dancers were superbly co-ordinated and charismatic. Overall, this programme was ENB at its very best and a fitting tribute to the unforgettable Petit.

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