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Le Jeune Homme et la Mort/ La Sylphide review at London Coliseum – ‘sexually charged’

Tamara Rojo and Ivan Vasiliev in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort at London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton Tamara Rojo and Ivan Vasiliev in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort at London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is a succinct, sexually charged work – particularly for 1946 when it premiered.

From the moment Ivan Vasiliev (the young man of the title) rises languidly to his feet – jeans faded, chest bare, cigarette in hand – his staggering steps are in keeping with the drama of Bach‘s score. Each plunging plie, each angered beat with which he strikes the air, is filled with anguish.

Tamara Rojo is the merciless mistress who drives her lover, as the title suggests, to suicide. Her silken feline moves and endless extensions are the epitome of the sexual fervour that fuels Vasiliev’s angst. She flips from fiery passion to cool disdain – and Vasiliev’s energy rises to madness in response.

Yet for all the passion and power play that these two established artists bring to their roles, the work remains two dimensional. Petit’s choreography is cool and calculated and offers little room for character progression. This ballet was highly modern for its time but now it looks overemphasised. The final entrance of Death is more comical than dramatic.

In contrast, English National Ballet’s spirited portrayal of La Sylphide is filled with charm. Alison McWhinney is at once alluring and wistful as the Sylph, Francesca Velicu a bright and expressive bride-to-be, while Aitor Arrieta exudes an agile, youthful energy as fiancee James.

Both works depict men at the mercy of women and both act as virtuosic vehicles for their male leads. The men embrace their roles and, together, Vasiliev and Rojo exude power. Yet even their striking dynamic is not quite enough to bring Le Jeune Homme et la Mort into the modern day.


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Roland Petit’s dark, sexual, if dated, work features in a contrasting double bill