I was lucky enough to be given a ticket by The Arts Desk to see the recent English National Ballet Roland Petit series at the Coliseum. Petit was a French choreographer, better known on the continent than here who was part of the Parisien cafe society in the 1940s. With his wife Zizi he played a significant role in the development of French Ballet. He died on 10th July this year and in tribute to him, English National Ballet were approached by Ivan Vasiliev who wanted to pay his respects to the choreographer by dancing what is arguably one of the greatest roles Petit created, le Jeune Homme et La Mort. Vasiliev is a young member of the Bolshoi who at the age of 22 has already attracted much attention and comparison to Nureyev for his athletic power on stage. This was an unexpected and outstanding bonus for the audience and one which really didn’t disappoint…
The programme started with L’Arlesienne. The story, of a young man gradually losing his sanity before committing suicide by jumping out of a window was movingly performed by Esteban Berlanga, with his despairing partner Erina Takahashi providing an emotive support. The set and costumes were stunning and evocative, for me bring back memories of my piano teacher, Carole Grindea and her family who had been very much part of the Arts movement in Paris that this work was drawn from.
Then, a short interval before the phenomenon of Vasiliev. From the moment the curtain was drawn back, he owned the stage. The story, of a painter driven to despair by a stunning young woman, is chilling enough. The dance was like nothing I have ever seen before in the level of emotion, sexual tension and power. Of course some of this was the obvious technical ability of Vasiliev, but that was complimented by an ability to ‘act’ the role, every movement, look and gesture mattered. The performance was intimate, we were drawn into the story in a way that I’ve never experienced with ballet before. The ‘Girl’ was played by Jia Zhang, making her debut as a soloist, but performing with conviction, poise and elegance. Enough to say that I cried – a first for me at the ballet.
Perhaps it was just the superb preceding performance, but Carmen seemed lack lustre to me. I DID enjoy it but I found Carmen (Begona Cao) a little stiff and Don Jose (Fabian Reimair) less than convincing. Of the cast, the three bandits played by Juan Rodriguez, Adela Ramirez and Joshua McSherry-Gray for me were the most entertaining. But, it was a hard act to follow and of course English National Ballet were performing a version of an Opera I enjoy immensely and saw recently at the Opera House.
An amazing night though and one I feel privileged to have been able to enjoy!