Estonia Opera House

26th March

Stuart Sweeney

Ukrainian Serge Lifar is recognised as one of the finest male dancers of the 20th C and was Director of Paris Opera Ballet over a period of thirty years. In England we rarely see his choreography, so I was pleased to have an opportunity in Estonia. His Suite en Blanc,  from 1943, is a plotless, neo-classical ballet feast over seven scenes. When I told a friend of the forthcoming premiere at Estonian National Ballet, she told me, “That will be a test.” And she was right, the work demands the highest technical ability and Charles Jude, setting the work, came to see the company before agreeing that they met the required standard. It is a feather in the cap of Linnar Looris, his team and the dancers to be awarded the production.

As the overture ends and the curtains part, we see the full cast of more than thirty dancers in a breath-taking, symmetrical tableau on three levels. The audience immediately applauded the brilliance of the design and I suspect that will happen at every performance. To Lalo’s gentle music, the dancers move off-stage in small groups, leaving three ballerinas. With elegant ports de bras, a feature throughout the work, the three dance in unison and then in mirror symmetry, two consoling the third gesturing tears to the melancholy tune.

In the Pas de Cinq, Beatrize Domingues from the corps be ballet impressed with her fouettés and her execution of Lifar’s other demanding steps. The four accompanying men do not get off lightly. With probably the highest number of entrechats in any three-minute ballet excerpt, their feet furiously crossing and many jumps, it is a wonder they can still stand by the end.

Christiano Principato in Suite en Blanc
Image: Veljo Poom

The Mazurka features the only extended male solo in the work. Christiano Principato attacks the spins and grand jetés with great confidence and power, while on the platform at the back of the stage, six men provide a series of symmetrical backdrops. In Adagio, Lifar again rings the changes, with a slow duet and no accompanying dancers. Anna Roberta displays her strong technique with beguiling elegance and Jevgeni Grib provides excellent partnering skills, the two artists generating a fine chemistry.

Anna Roberta in Suite en Blanc
Image: Veljo Poom

In La Flute, dancers enter in sequential groups of four, followed by Nanae Maruyama. Her musicality and joy of dancing surge from the stage and in the later, faster section, her piqué turns around the stage were a delight. Finally, in groups and solos, all the performers return and end in another beautiful tableau. The audience responded with cheers for this inspiring ballet. Earlier, I mentioned “a test”: the dancers all gained high marks.

In the first half, we saw Katarzyna Kozielska’s Open Door to Bizet’s Symphony in C, music made famous by Balanchine. The contrast with Suite en Blanc could not be greater, as Kozielska combines contemporary and often awkward movement alongside traditional ballet steps. The choreographer writes that she was inspired by Freud’s psycho-analytical theories involving the id, ego and super-ego. After the first performance, I had to remind myself of these terms: the id represents instinctual desires, the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role, and the ego mediates between the instinctual desires of the id and the critical super-ego. A little more explanation in the programme would have been helpful.

Estonian National Ballet in Open Door
Image: Veljo Poom

As the curtain opens, we are introduced to the central character, played by Anna Roberta, a dynamic woman expressing herself with ungainly steps and upthrust feet, mixed with pointe work. A door at the back of the stage intrigues her but, to her irritation refuses to budge. But then it does open, and a gaggle of white figures enter, which I took to represent the ego, and take control of Roberta and dance mainly in unison with a similar mix of contemporary and balletic steps. Roberta is put to bed. A second group of black figures enter looking stern, which I take to represent the super-ego. Do forgive me if my interpretation is skew-whiff. The two camps face off and Roberta puts two of them together as if to debate, which then extends to all the dancers. Eventually, Roberta has had enough of their clamour and leads them out of the door.

After another solo from Roberta, she covers herself under a bedsheet, as a single figure comes through the door. Shutting it with a thrust of his bottom. Jevgeni Grib plays what I presume to be the id, as he moves seductively round the room, spinning, and then swirling on the floor. He pulls back the sheet and insists she rises. Their distinctive movement around and in the bed had me smiling. The two dancers make the most of the sensuous steps and they end up cuddling in bed.

Estonian National Ballet in Open Door
Image: Veljo Poom

More comings and goings with the egos and super-egos follow and in one scene the white egos return with imaginative, animated choreography featuring both clusters and widespread groupings with arms waving high. The super-egos return, and the two groups seem united in their disdain for the behaviour of Roberta and Grib.

In the finale, both groups leave and Roberta tires of id, who is jointly lead away by an ego and a super-ego. After a short solo, Roberta throws herself on the bed, as if to say, “To Hell with the lot of them,” but the door is open for possibly future repeats.

Open Door is a quirky, innovative ballet and Anna Roberta excelled in a role well outside her usual repertoire, adding humour alongside her usual elegance. Overall, Black and White is a varied, delightful evening of dance.