Petite Mort

Shortly after the curtains went up to present Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991), I feared, for a brief moment, that I was becoming witness to another of those ballets where the dancers remain firmly guarded behind their own gaze. Fortunately these fears promptly vanished as I became captivated by six of English National Ballet’s male dancers as they executed, with exquisite timing and precision, an array of complex manipulations of a fencing foil. Clad only in some slightly distasteful flesh-coloured briefs, the sextet’s impressive musculature and noteworthy technique battled continually for my attention.

Photography by David Jensen

Accompanied by one of Mozart’s most familiar piano concertos, six vertically positioned females lay (also in flesh coloured attire) awaiting their male companions as they rid of the material that disguised their entrance. On their return, the six couples began their embrace in an indirect, yet certainly alluding sensual interaction comprised of interesting lifts, supports and varying physical intricacies, presenting, with clarity, both sexes undeniable virtuosity.

This ballet, though somewhat difficult to comprehend conceptually, is not without wit. The females appear from the dark as if dressed in long black gowns which in fact are revealed to be gowns on wheels.  The dancers cleverly use these to swiftly revolve around each other, and to move through interesting pathways across the stage; dead-pan expressions only enhance this humour.

Though new to English National Ballet’s repertory and style, Petite Mort was executed perfectly. They say save the best until last, but there is no doubt that this piece was by far the best of the company’s triple bill.

Bryony Cooper