Roland Petit’s Carmen – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 24 July 2011

Three chairs for Petit

Erina Takahashi was the only one brave enough to step forward to tell Esteban Berlanga that he really should start using deodorant.

For whatever reason, here in the UK we rarely get the chance to see the work of Roland Petit, the French choreographer  who sadly passed away just two weeks ago. So it was refreshing and timely for the English National Ballet to put on three of his seminal works in this hit and miss triple bill.

   Carmen was the main draw but it was a disappointment. It’s a gung-ho affair, full of dancing chairs, finger-clicking gypsies and stubbed-out cigarettes. It only pauses for breath in the bedroom scene which was performed with panache by the otherwise flat Daniel Kraus and Anaïs Chalendard. A Zizi-fied Chalendard looked particularly off-colour and lacked a vital Carmenic allure.

  There was plenty to admire in the supporting cast, though, who appeared to be having a great time, especially James Streeter as a highly camp Toreador. Looking like The Joker from Batman he was the only soloist in the show who really engaged with the audience – his five minute fling got the biggest response of the afternoon.

   Prior to Carmen was a rousing La Jeune Homme et la Mort. Anton Lukovkin as the Young Man sprang athletically over tables, ferociously threw the poor chairs into the far corners of the stage and showed great strength and control in his balances. The femme fatale from hell was played with a maddening lasciviousness by Jia Zhang as a fag-puffing dominatrix wearing a slinky yellow dress who has a penchant for sticking her pointe shoes into places they shouldn’t have been. I don’t blame him for committing suicide.

   No chairs, alas, in the afternoon’s opener, L’Arlésienne, but there was plenty of Petit’s fetishistic devotion to footwork on display. Erina Takahashi was in her element as the Girl; neat and tidy, her feet flexed fluidly around the devilish flips and bends required of her arches. After a shaky start with a badly landed leap Esteban Berlanga’s Boy slowly grew more purposeful and authoritative to deliver the performance of the afternoon; he eventually hurled himself through his window of doom with all the gusto of an Olympic diver clinching a gold medal.

   Two of these works are now over 60 years old and thanks to Monty Python some of Petit’s more angular walking steps now look a little silly but there’s an invention, fluency and spectacle in his mix of Classical and Modern that remains relevant and invigorating to ballet in the twenty-first century.

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