Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ecstasy & Death

English National Ballet, 19 April 2013

Marie-Agnès Gillot and Nicolas Le Riche performing Le Jeune Homme et la Mort,  Paris Opera Ballet (2005). 

A shrewd marketing ploy undermined by the dispiriting Etudes.

This triple bill of modern classical ballet addressed three options for the form. The first an abstract piece, the second narrative and the third self-referential.

Jirí Kylián's Petite Mort is set to two adagios from Mozart piano concertos, and is sequence of  female-male couplings, interspersed with solo work involving fencing foils. Movements are elegant and fluid, as befits the music, tinged with eros and melancholy.

The standout work, though, is Roland Petit's short Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, to a setting by Jean Cocteau, and thoroughly part of the latter artist's style. 

As a piece of late symbolism, depicting a hysterical young man effectively in love with death, the work is not overlong, and is extremely effective. Watching it, I felt it wouldn't be possible to find a better medium for expressing this simple yet powerful tale. 

Nicolas Le Riche's movements immediately conveyed the young man's disposition. Words would have been superfluous, and might have leadened the ambiguity of the girl/death figure.

We might question whether the story is hackneyed, but this treatment must be the definitive version of the fable. 

Harald Lander's Etudes, a company warhorse, is a frustrating, vapid affair, as sometimes happens when virtuosity is displayed. 

The dancers were magnificent in this evidently demanding set of studies in dance, involving many twirls, leaps, and other exhausting activities, all performed gracefully. 

It reminded me of a recent description of classical ballet dancers: Apollo's Angels, hinting that ballet attempts to squeeze the most dionysiac, wildest of artforms (dance) into something ordered and cool. The repetitions were increasingly depressing, as the regimented soulless nature of the piece became obvious.

Perhaps even greater virtuosity, on a godlike level, might have saved Etudes, but its unlikely given the consistently vulgar orchestration of Czerny's drab piano music. It's as if Knudåge Riisager overcompensated for the poor source material in the worst way imaginable. Musically things only worsened, climaxing, as it were, in some of the ugliest music I've experienced.

Astonishingly, the ENB have danced Etudes 749 times, while they are on their eighth performance of the contemporaneous Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. If only it were the other way round!

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