Discovering Petrushka

You are not alone if you are one of those that feels lost when watching ballet. This is one of many reasons why ballet goers should sign up, alongside their not-so-expert friends, for English National Ballet’s Masterclasses. Between a glass of wine and some crisps, the noted dance historian Jane Pritchard makes the great masterpieces of ENB’s season accessible by exploring the context in which these works were created and much more. The most recent of these evenings was dedicated to Petrushka, the Ballet Russes’ version of the lunar Pierrot and part of A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev, ENB’s programme celebrating 75 years since Nureyev’s birth. The programme, a virtual present from Artistic Director Tamara Rojo and the Company to the dance legend will contain a work that was made for him (Songs of  a Wayfarer), a ballet that he himself made (Raymonda Act III), and lastly Petrushka; Nureyev’s favourite role and one of his most memorable interpretations.

Photography by ASH

Originally premiered in Paris 1911 the balled by Mikhail Fokine on music by Igor Stravinsky and design by Alexandre Benoit has fascinated many generations of dancers. With this production, English National Ballet goes back to the original, keeping the Fokine legacy alive. A modernist work (before Balanchine’s formalist revolution) the piece puts today’s dancers training under challenge, as it requires great acting skills. At first we had a glimpse into the re-staging practice: a highly interesting process that involves a great degree of care. Two dancers, First Solist Fabian Reimair and Junior Solist Anton Lukovkin, brought Act II of Petrushka back to life under expert eyes. The essence of the part is in the smallest details as each of Petrushka’s gestures is motivated with emotion and intention – more than steps – the dancers had to learn to calibrate nuances and mind states. Only after steps, intention and musicality are respected can the interpreters’ creative individuality come into play. The same care is given to the group sequences.

The practical part of the Masterclass was followed by a short lecture on the historical context in which the piece was produced. Particular attention was laid on Fokine’s working process, his legacy and on ENB’s performance history of the piece. The Masterclasses are a really good way to get to know how the dancers work. The richness of insight gained watching two dancers study the same part is fascinating. These events are a tasty appetiser that makes one hungry for what is to come on stage.

Katja Vaghi