Le Jeune Homme et la Mort

English National Ballet have done it again.

As part of the triple bill forming Ecstasy & Death, Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is as Tamara Rojo puts it, a ‘masterpiece’.

The choreography tells a story of a young painter in Paris who descends into complete madness and finally suicide, after perilously lusting after a cold and unforgiving woman who ignores his affections.  Tamara Rojo and Nicolas Le Riche make their debut as a duo having not partnered before, yet they weave around the set confidently together with undeniable chemistry.  Bach’s Passacaglia creates a foreboding tone in the dark and dingy set, transporting us into the life and mind of a desperate man.

Photography by David Jensen

The daring and visceral sexual caressing of various erogenous zones was a distorted direction from your typical ballet piece.  It demanded the audiences’ full attention.  These sexualised movements were coupled with complex and aggressive violence where Rojo commanded control to the point of the demise of the longing lover.  The performance also contained more subtle touches; a particularly interesting observation throughout the performance was the small puppet that dangled and hung by the artist’s bed, providing perhaps a look into what would become of him.  It is suggested that he has already had thoughts of hanging himself before the real torment begins.

Rojo and Le Riche bring the ballet to life with their impressive and convincing portrayal of notoriously strong characters.  They demonstrate immense technique but also a complete embodiment of raw emotion.  Taking us on a journey through despair, helplessness and then phases of fleeting hope, we watch as Le Riche is eventually dragged into the deep abyss of unrequited love.

Rojo fiercely exposes the ultimate femme fatale complete with saucy silk gloves and her hypnosis of both Le Riche and the audience with mesmerising and disarming qualities of movement.  Her eyes flash with a mixture of seductive delight and evil malice throughout, creating an unnerving yet playful effect.  She literally boxes her victim in like a shark around prey and then proceeds to teasingly disappear, leaving him in a haze of her cigarette smoke that lingers on the stage, like his ever-present infatuation for her.

Both a thrilling and chilling performance that left audience members in an awe and provoked passionate discussion as the curtain came down.  A masterpiece indeed.

Alison Jackson