Petite Mort

The curtain ascends; six male dancers with their bare backs fronting the audience slowly walk backwards. Adorned in nothing but flesh coloured briefs, they each hold a foil aloft. The image illustrates a sense of intensity and introduces an unconventional atmosphere, as the use of weaponry coincides with the beauty of the ballet. In unison, the men slice and slide the foils across the stage. The sound illuminates and invades the theatre. Holding it high above their heads, the men run a sheet from front stage to back revealing six female dancers. The opening alone entrances and enthrals with the use of props and meticulous choreography.


Photography by ASH

With a slight indifference to ballet, I did have my preconceptions about English National Ballet’s Ecstasy and Death. However, Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, rich with flair and Kylián’s unique choreographic quirks altered my perception. Petite Mort, meaning little death in French is a euphemism for sexual orgasm, and it is clear to see the sexual connotations that the piece delivers. The close contiguity between the male and female dancers during their duets hints to the intimacy associated with orgasm. This notion is accentuated by Joke Visser’s costume design. The flesh coloured, strapless leotards that the female dancers wear allude to the naked form, and this idea is mirrored in the costume of the male dancers. The sexual undertones are exactly that – undertones. Unlike other works where the sexual references crudely overpower, here they are fleeting and performed with a sense of professionalism and artistic maturity. The programme note suggests that the intricate duets imbued with skill are suggested to be ‘of cold-eyed manipulation and control’. However, this notion is missed as the elaborate quality of the duets, paired with the fluid rippling backs and the gracious folding and unfolding of the legs prevail.

Petite Mort blurs the distinction between traditional ballet and modern dance as traits from both genres are utilised. The phrase, ‘a company is only as strong as the weakest dancer’ is lost on Petite Mort because the dancers are all of a high calibre with extensive technique.

Symone Keisha