English National Ballet
Carmen | L’Arlésienne | Le Jeune Homme et la Mort
21st July 2011, London Coliseum
Smokin’. That’s how I’d describe English National Ballet’s Roland Petit triple bill this evening. It’s a night where fast twitch muscle fibres rule. The style is new to the dancers, but you wouldn’t know it. They were on fire, right at the end of a long season and after a testing few weeks that saw, among other things, the death of Petit during the rehearsal period. All credit to guest repetiteurs Luigi Bonino and Jean-Philippe Halnaut for drilling the dancers during an intensely difficult time for them personally.
Petit’s works have hardly been seen in the UK and a silent audience watched the drama unfold over the course of the evening; themes of death and despair ever present. In sunny Provence, L’Arlésienne’s tale of a young man who becomes increasingly unhinged because of his passion for an unfaithful “Girl from Arles” who is, ingeniously, never seen. Esteban Berlanga was made for this role. He has beautiful feet which curl at the end of high extensions and fast, twisted jumps. His anguish was palpable, especially when his fiancée, Erina Takahashi, stands with her hand held out, palm upwards, cradling his head, and he spins off into his own world, only to return to place his head in her hand, looking mighty confused. Both dancers excelled in the acting and were supported by a superbly timed corps de ballet.
Each time I’ve seen Yonah Acosta (nephew of Carlos) I have seen him grow artistically. He already has the equipment and his Cuban technique puts him head and shoulders above the crowd, but his stagecraft has slowly blossomed with his confidence. Le Jeune Homme et la Mort has the power to make a star of its male lead, and it has again. This is the company’s first performance and it’s no mean feat that Acosta has been cast. He may be young but he inhabited the space of a restless man perused by a wilful woman; the Mort of the title, in a daffodil coloured dress and black, slightly subversive, gloves. His fate is sealed but along the way he is astonishing. He can jump, of course, but in his Parisian garret he has tables and chairs to contend with. Acosta has this ability to somehow push his heel down into thin air – Road Runner style -to slow himself down so that he lands with what seems like a cushion of air beneath him. You hardly hear a thing; time seems suspended until he lands. And then he’s off again, angrily hurling chairs about or mooning after the daffodil girl. Anais Chalendard is too thin, too spiky (literally – her ribs were clearly visible) to be the woman in charge of the situation, but the pair work well together and the sets behaved to produce something quite spectacular by the end. If you’re going tonight, you’ll see Ivan Vasiliev, who will of course be brilliant. He was one of the last people to work with Petit and is paying his own personal tribute. But I’d urge you to go back, to see Acosta too. You won’t regret it.
Slightly batty chimney sweeps. That’s what springs to mind when the last ballet of the evening, Carmen, swings into gear. The girls in the cigarette factory have brilliant costumes with a lot of crazy black netting and seriously bed-head hair. By the time they’ve lost the net skirts, they have become fully fledged minxes. The net will later return, this time as headgear. Adela Ramirez, as the Lead Bandit Girl, is incredible – fiery and sassy and definitely not someone to mess with, even standing atop a chair. The music rips from her fingernails and her innate rhythm catches your eye as she makes every beat count. Begoña Cao is perfectly cast, wearing a short, boyish black wig and some attitude! Fabian Reimair also made his debut in the role of Don José and made a wonderfully attentive partner for Cao, despite her eventual demise at his hands. The central pas de deux is provocative but also flirty; Reimair has the arrogant matador stance to match. Tamarin Stott, as the girl fighting Carmen as Don José first arrives, certainly wasn’t holding anything back. A proper catfight ensued. Again, all credit to the corps girls, none of whom have been promoted this year. They are as watchable as the main characters and as valuable. By the end, Cao was visibly moved, as were the audience around me. Bravo ENB under Wayne Eagling’s visionary leadership.
English National Ballet perform until Sunday. On Friday evening, Ivan Vasiliev will dance Le Jeune Homme et la Mort in a personal tribute to Roland Petit.
Photography throughout © Helen Maybanks. No unauthorised reproduction.