Monday, 22 January 2018

Tamara Rojo at Last! Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and La Sylphide

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English National Ballet La Sylphide and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort  19 Jan 2018 Coliseum

Having chosen to see La Sylphide and The Song of the Earth on 14 Oct 2017 in order to catch Tamara Rojo I was disappointed to watch The Song of the Earth over a flickering monitor with the sound turned down in a noisy bar. The reason for my banishment to the bar was that I arrived at the Palace Theatre a few minutes after the performance had begun. That was because Manchester City Council in its wisdom had seen fit to close Albert Square to traffic without  adequate warning or diversion signs just as crowds were streaming into the city for a night out. The result was chaos and although I found a way round the traffic I could not avoid it entirely.  That was my only low point of the evening and the pleasure of meeting Sarah Kundi, one of my favourite dancers, after the show went a long way to making up for it (see Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth 18 Nov 2018).

Had I seen The Song of the Earth on stage it is unlikely that I would have gone to London on Friday.  I would then have missed one of the most remarkable performances that I have seen in nearly 60 years of ballet going.  It is strange how something that appeared to be a disaster can sometimes turn out for the best. The performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort by Ivan Vasilev and Tamara Rojo was one of the most compelling that I have ever seen.

The work was created by Roland Petit shortly after the Second World War.  We don't see much of Petit's work in this country which is a regrettable because he was an important choreographer.   I have seen only one other work by Petit in a lifetime of ballet going. Petit's muse was his wife Zizi Jeanmaire who was a dramatic dancer with the most captivating eyes.  I never got to see her in real life though I saw her on film in Carmen and Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.  Sadly it is no longer possible to see Jeanmaire as the temptress in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort but we can still see Rojo.  I believe that the experience of seeing her in the role is very similar to seeing Jeanmaire. That is not to say that Rojo imitates her predecessor - far from it because Rojo has made the role her own - but she is at least as exciting to watch. Rojo, like Jeanmaire, is a dramatic dancer with striking features and an imperious manner both as the woman and as death.

As my eyes were riveted on Rojo from the moment she appeared at the door, I am not sure that I gave Vasilev the attention that he deserved.  He is another outstanding dancer.  I appreciated his strength and beauty. I marvelled at his virtuosity as he perched on the backs of chairs and leaped over furniture waiting for his visitor.  But it was only when he kicked away his support with his head in a noose that I focused on him fully. As the scene changed from garret to afterlife Rojo drew me back as she emerged as some angel of death.  A ballerina's ballet if ever there was.

I should say a word about Georges Wakhévitch's designs and in Karinska's costumes,  The young man is stripped to the waste in jeans but the woman wears a fluid, canary yellow dress and black gloves in life and a long white dress, death mask and red veil as death.  The next life appears to start on the rooftops of Paris. In the background stands the Eiffel tower advertising Citroën. I never knew that the Eiffel tower was ever used for advertising so I looked it up. According to Sophie Nadeau, it really did happen. For a time the tower was the biggest outdoor advertisement in the world (see Solo Sophie).

The rest of the evening was Bournonville's treasure La Sylphide.  I love that ballet so much. How I would enjoy dancing Madge.  As I said in my review of English National Ballet's performance of La Sylphide in Manchester, I greatly prefer that ballet to Giselle:
"I prefer Løvenskiold's score to Adam's any day and the idea of the ghosts of spurned maidens dancing their lovers - or indeed any other man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - to death gives me the heebie-jeebies. The story in La Sylphide is so much more reasonable even if it does have mythical creatures like sylphs and witches."
I had enjoyed the show in Manchester but I liked Friday night's performance even more. Rina Kanehara was a delightful sylph. Her loyal friend Anna was danced again by Sarah Kundi. I have followed her for years and it is always a pleasure to see her. Joseph Caley portrayed a headstrong James.  I can't help feeling sorry for him. Yes he may have been mean to Madge but he didn't deserve what happened to him.  Had I been Effy I would have forgiven him.  Caley had been one of my favourite dancers at the Birmingham Royal Ballet and it was good to see him in his new company.  Daniel Kraus was a scheming and devious Gurn.  Crystal Costa made a very successful debut as Effy. Life with Gurn. Hmm! Frying pans and fire spring to mind.  Madge makes or breaks a performance of La Sylphide for me and Jane Howarth was a splendid witch. One could almost hear her imprecations.

It had not been easy getting to the theatre from Holborn as the Piccadilly Line was up the creek. I arrived at Leicester Square squashed, squeezed, hot and bothered with hardly any time to spare to pick up my ticket, deposit a heavy brief case and find my seat. I was hardly in the most appreciative frame of mind for an evening at the ballet.  The drama, the choreography. Rojo's  dancing, the brilliance of the work blew all that away. The show finished at 22:00 and my train home was at 22:57.  Plenty of time for a few stops one would have thought. In fact, I needed every single minute as the Piccadilly Line had still not found its paddle by the time the theatres were emptying. And when I arrived at Doncaster I had to drive 35 miles on ungritted roads through falling snow. The excellence of the double bill was well worth those tribulations.

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