Dance review: Ecstasy and Death, London Coliseum, London


The umbrella title for English National Ballet’s latest triple bill suggests decadent abandon.

In fact, it goes from the fencing foils of Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort to the classroom virtuosity of Harald Lander’s Etudes. Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, led by guest star Nicolas Le Riche and Tamara Rojo, is the best match for the name. This was the first programme that Rojo chose in her new role as director of ENB. It’s an uneven bill, but it shows the company in strong shape.

Created in 1946, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is a chic tragedy: a young artist in a garret, driven to suicide by a glamorous vamp. Though he’s playing the “young man” of the title, Le Riche is a mature artist; he retires from the Paris Opéra Ballet later this year. His technique is still impressive, but the twisting jumps are precise, rather than an explosion of animal spirits. It makes him an intellectual hero, thinking himself to his doom in response to Rojo’s death figure.

Rojo is an asset that has to be worked into her new company. A glamorous star, formerly of The Royal Ballet, she hasn’t looked at home in ENB’s own repertory. This time, she has a role that shows off her charisma, her sense of drama, and relishes it. She moves with greedy sensuality, avid as she taunts or lures Le Riche. When Jean Cocteau’s set opens out in the finale, she stalks grandly across the Paris rooftops.

This was the company premiere of Kylián’s Petite Mort, created in 1991. Six men, in corset knickers, pose with fencing foils to the slow movements from two Mozart piano concertos. They pull a billowing swathe of fabric over the stage; when they pull it back again, six women have joined them. The women wear corset leotards, but also glide about in false crinoline dresses; there’s only half a dress there, so they can step out of it in a moment.

Dancers and foils both get bent into curving lines. The women lie on their backs, supporting the men on their tucked-up knees. They’re both passive and doing most of the work. Kylián’s ballet strikes a lot of poses over sex and power, but there’s not a lot there. ENB’s dancers move with taut elegance.

In Etudes, Lander uses the structure of a ballet class, starting with barre work and building to a whizz-bang finish. The company power through it, with strong solo dancing. Erina Takahashi whirls with sharp accuracy, Vadim Muntagirov soars through his jumps and James Forbat leaps and turns with dashing confidence.

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