English National Ballet dance Roland Petit – L’Arlésienne … Le Jeune Homme et la Mort … Carmen


Vivette – Erina Takahashi
Frédéri – Esteban Berlanga

Roland Petit – Choreography
Georges Bizet – Music
René Allio – Designs
Jean-Michel Désiré – Lighting
Luigi Bonino & Jean Philippe Halnaut – Staging

Le Jeune Homme et la Mort

Le Jeune Homme – Yonah Acosta
La Femme/La Mort – Anaïs Chalendard

Roland Petit – Choreography
Johann Sebastian Bach orch. Ottorino Respighi – Music [Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582 omitting Fugue]
Jean Cocteau – Libretto
Georges Wakhévitch – Designs
Karinska – Costumes
Jean-Michel Désiré – Lighting
Luigi Bonino & Jean Philippe Halnaut – Staging


Carmen – Begoña Cao
Don José – Faban Reimair
Toreador – James Streeter
Lead Bandit – Juan Rodriguez
Lead Bandit Girl – Adela Ramirez
Second Bandit – Joshua McSherry-Gray

Roland Petit – Choreography
Georges Bizet orch. David Garforth – Music
Antoni Clavé – Designs
Jean-Michel Désiré – Lighting
Luigi Bonino & Jean Philippe Halnaut – Staging

Dancers of English National Ballet

Orchestra of English National Ballet
Benjamin Pope

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 21 July, 2011
Venue: The Coliseum, London

English National Ballet’s celebration of Roland Petit is now, sadly, also a tribute: the great French choreographer passed away a week ago aged 87. The company has done his memory proud with performances of three of his most famous works, ballets which demonstrate his individual voice in dance, his unique and intense theatricality and the easy fusion of the highbrow and common-place, the rarefied and the vernacular.

Petit, having trained at the Paris Opéra Ballet School and passed into the main company in 1940, soon broke away to create his own works, free of superiors. In 1945 (aged 21) he founded his own company (Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées) under the tutelage of Boris Kochno, Diaghilev’s protégé who nurtured and guided this young talent. In 1946 he created perhaps one of his most important works, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort to a libretto by that other Diaghilev collaborator and man of the arts, Jean Cocteau. Carmen followed in 1948, showcasing the considerable talents of Renée (Zizi) Jeanmaire, who was to become his wife. Petit subsequently toured extensively around the world and worked with all the major ballet companies, founding the Ballet National de Marseille-Roland Petit at the city’s behest in 1972 and for whom he created L’Arlésienne in 1974. In all he created some 174 ballets of which 100 are still in the active repertoire. He remains one of the greatest dance creators of the twentieth century.

ENB has thrown everything into these revivals – the striking sets and costumes for all three works have been lovingly re-created, and the full stage pictures, as intended, are faithfully reproduced. The orchestra, under Benjamin Pope’s impassioned conducting, play superbly, offering a welcome fullness of tone (nowhere more noticeable that in the Bach) and clear commitment to their music. The presentation of these three works is a major contribution to the British dance world this year.

L’Arlésienne, to Bizet’s infectious composition, tells of the descent into madness of Frédéri, a young provençal who, despite the anguished ministrations of his fiancée Vivette and his fellow villagers, cannot forget the woman from Arles he has left behind (the eponymous Arlésienne who remains unseen) and who finally hurls himself to his death from a window. Petit’s villagers clearly evoke those of Nijinska’s Les Noces, their ritualised movements demonstrating the closeness of their rural community. It is from this ‘smallness’ and intimacy that Frédéri increasingly and desperately tries to escape, his large, wild, sweeping movements in contrast with their control and cohesion.

Erina Takahashi made much of Vivette’s incomprehension and her innocent and, ultimately, useless attempts to calm and reassure her betrothed. Hers is an easy technique, her jumps light and airy, her feet precise, everything clear. Esteban Berlanga is a hugely promising artist who caught the eye in seasons past, not least as a fine Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. Here he charts the mental disintegration of a man with intelligence and subtlety, while still delivering the wide-eyed confusion that slowly, inexorably descends upon his character. He tackled all the technical demands of the role with confidence and threw himself into the final, mad solo which pushes the dancer to his limit, both physically and mentally. This was a fine performance indeed.

Carmen, the 1948 shocker, looked superb, Clavé’s sinister, evocative sets expertly realised. The company were in fine form, throwing themselves into the bizarreries of Petit’s steps with relish, handling the tavern chairs with flair and generally kicking up a storm. The Bandit Trio, especially, brimmed with character, unafraid of dancing ‘theatrically’, as is required. Carmen is a cleverly constructed piece with Petit playing with the opera’s narrative – Don José stabs a passer-by to rob him of his money – and blithely using the ‘wrong’ music, such as Don José’s first solo in the tavern, which is to Carmen’s ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ (that habaner’s melody written by Sebastián Yradier ten years before Bizet set to work on Carmen) but, it works. Naturally, being ballet, the focus is upon the central pair, created by Petit himself (a formidable dance-actor) and Jeanmaire. Neither of the pair got under the skin of their roles, Cao never quite creating perfect synthesis between music and steps or, despite much eye-flashing, radiating dangerous sex, and Reimair unable to project sufficient character. It was only in the final confrontation that both seemed to achieve the intensity that had eluded them previously.

Shining as a work of chilling splendour Le Jeune Homme et la Mort swept all before it. It is a brilliantly simple conceit: a young man in dungarees (poet? painter? lay-about?) lolls in his garret room and then thrashes and rails against his boredom and solitude. Enter an impossibly glamorous woman wearing a tight-fitting canary yellow dress and black gloves, her hair in a severe raven-black fringe. She proceeds to dance with him, against him, seducing and repulsing and finally leaves him with the idea of suicide. He hangs himself from the beam of the room (which we suddenly recognise as a gibbet); cue the coup de théâtre as the entire set of the room lifts to reveal the roof-tops of Paris with the Eiffel Tower flashing its Citroën advertisement (Wakhévitch’s set ranks as one of the most arresting one will ever see). Death enters wearing a skull mask which she removes and places upon his face – her own is that of the Woman. Imbued with the spirit of post-war existentialism or even nihilism, Jeune Homme is spare, horribly fascinating and requires two performers of the greatest intensity.

Anaïs Chalendard is, quite simply, sensational as the Woman/Death, her angular features perfect for this cruel siren’s toying with the Young Man, her lips thin even in a smile, her pointe shoes sharp as stilettoes, her body taught and vicious. This is a performance of superbly insouciant cruelty; her final appearance as Death in Karinska’s astonishing costume giving her the appearance of a Cocteau anti-heroine, a Maria Casarès of the dance. Yonah Acosta (Carlos’s nephew) was superbly athletic as the Young Man, equal to the acrobatic demands Petit placed on the role’s creator, the great Jean Babilée, and possessor of a very fine technique. He played it clearly as an adolescent – his crashing about the garret room before the Woman’s arrival is that of a frustrated teenager, his straddling and caressing of a chair clearly desirous of sexual release. I did not see Jean Babilée, or indeed Rudolf Nureyev or Mikhail Baryshnikov (who can be seen dancing this part in the 1985 film White Nights), so there may be room for missing intensity and greater nuance, but, Acosta gave a performance which wholly satisfied, and one which he will, if given the chance to perform it more, deepen and hone. As a debut, it was excellent indeed.

Wayne Eagling and his company are to be saluted for undertaking this programme – Petit is not a household name in this country and these productions have clearly required a great deal of time, effort and expense. It has been worth it ten times over – for the dancers to experience the stimulus, the joy and the challenge of Petit’s work, for the audience once again to see superb ballets by this late-lamented master, and for Petit himself, as a justified tribute to the immense contribution he made to the art form.

Eminent dance critic Clement Crisp and English National Ballet Junior Soloist Daniel Kraus discuss…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content