Ecstasy and Death

In 1866, a troupe of Parisian ballerinas managed to shock New York by wearing pink tights on stage in The Black Crook. Under the bright lights, the girls looked like they were dancing with bare legs. Preachers, appalled at this illusion of nude limbs, denounced the production from the pulpit.  As one might expect, the show was a huge success, but popularity did little to calm its notoriety. Any ladies of a certain class wishing to attend, were forced to hide their faces under black veils in case they were recognised.

Nowadays, pink tights have lost the ability to disturb and are simply part of the arsenal of sugar-plums and enchanted princesses. It is his tulle-covered apathy which Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the ENB, would like to leave behind, and bring back the ability to startle its audience.

Kylian’s Petite Mort, manages to not only leave off the pink tights but every other marker of ballet, even the pointe shoes. Dressed in underwear so orthopedic it could almost be classed as fetishistic, six men dance with rapiers – whipping them through the air, and bending the mailable blades around their bare limbs before confronting their female partners.

This duel between the sexes continues with Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. Ivan Putrov, making his debut as the young man, dances with an entirely different sort of dangerous weapon – a dictator in a yellow dress. Jia Zhang’s Girl is a predator, reveling in her sadistic role as tormentor.

Photography by David Jense

In Études, we’ve left behind the garret to visit a ballet studio.  It is the company class of fantasy. There are no injuries here. No dodgy knees or tattered leg warmers. Each grand battements so precise a set square must have produced them. It seems a strange piece to programme in a bill dedicated to Ecstasy and Death but its study of classical training echoes the great nineteenth century ballets. Here a flurry of Giselle‘s Willis in their soft-tulle skirts, there a procession of white tutus that could have been plucked from La Bayadere‘s Kingdom of the Shades, demonstrating that despite its pastel-coloured reputation, ballet has been fascinated with death long before Rojo’s manifesto.

Maxine Smiles