Vivette – Erina Takahashi / Frédéri – Esteban Berlanga
Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (1946)
The Young Man – Yonah Acosta / Death – Anaïs Chalendard
Carmen – Begoña Cao / Don José – Fabian Reimair
It was a truly enjoyable evening and it provided a very interesting contrast to the Sylvie Guillem extravaganza a couple of weeks ago. And it also became a worthy tribute to Petit himself who only died days earlier.
This was my first live experience of Petit’s work and I can say I am a convert. His lightness and his interest in theatricality and may I say, camp is truly unique. In comparison to the two British giants that dominate ballet culture in the UK (Ashton and MacMillan) his voice is distinctive and much more joyous.
The triple bill presented by the English National Ballet was an interesting mix of moods but with a strand of doomed men running through the evening. His language is a mix of classical ballet with touches of mime and jazz improvisation. The resulting amalgam is a very light-hearted but ultimately very satisfying product. The standout feature of his language in both Carmen and L’Arlésienne is an elevated position for the corps. Many choreographers treat the corps as an inconvenience or as just a homogeneous crowd, Petit uses it as an important protagonist that propels the narrative. In contrast Le Jeune Homme is a character study with much more insight and endowed with two great young stars as the main protagonists: Yonah Acosta and Anaïs Chalendard. Acosta brought an exuberant and moody character to life, making even the regular abuse of the chairs on stage seem natural and part of his frustration. Chalendard was an electrifying presence, a very powerful evocation of the character of death with angular limbs and a face full of determination. Petit uses smoking as an element of glamorous presence (like in Carmen), a very Gallic attribute, to animate further the exchange between the two dancers. The campness of the set and costumes, with the big reveal of a panoramic moonlit view of Parisian rooftops was the stuff of cinematic treats by Baz Luhrmann and Pedro Almodóvar. Unexpected, slightly kitsch, surely eye catching. A true coup de theatre!
The evening got started in a much more muted way. L’Arlésienne based on Bizet’s music was an interesting group drama with the couple getting married (Vivette and Frédéri) and ably portrayed by Erina Takahashi and Esteban Berlanga. Takahashi showed natural sweetness and beautiful control. The whole story is mainly relying on the doomed male and unfortunately Berlanga, despite his gorgeous looks didn’t manage to extract all the emotion out of the choreography and seemed to be thinking too much and not letting himself fly. The excellent dancing by the corps created a wonderful backdrop standing out against a big painted Van Gogh inspired cloth. The final dramatic jump out of the window for the hero is another camp touch which brings a much wanted climax to a gentle, on the whole, creation.
Carmen was the concluding part of the evening with an overload on pedestrian ethnographic touches that look dated (a large group of fans used as wall decorations in Carmen’s bedroom?) and some strange vocal participation by the dancers who sang the Habanera like in a French class for the under fives, gave the piece a look of a 1950s quaint seaside postcard. But the most interesting decision by Petit came with the imaginative reuse and rearrangement Bizet’s extremely familiar material. In my view a touch of genius, as a bit of gender reversal (e.g. the Habanera is danced by Don Jose) and fight against expectation is the way to go to avoid an experience on autopilot. The sexyness of the choreography caused a stir in 1949 but today is more of an essay on movement inspired by operatic material and re-shapen to serve a new form. Cao gave us a coquettish Carmen but maybe not with enough fire in her gut. The concluding confrontation outside the bullfighting arena is stripped of its Bizet music but is set to an almost tribal, loud drum beat. Making the action pop and accentuating the animalism of the scene. Just stunning!
This evening would have made a wonderful introduction for anyone to the beauty and expressive possibilities of ballet. A truly entertaining and satisfying evening out that showed ENB in great shape and exploring rarely seen in the UK repertoire.