Estonia Opera House

25th April 2024

Stuart Sweeney

Carnival of the Animals is a 35 minute ballet for children, choregraphed by Marina Kesler and set to Camille Saint-Saëns eponymous suite. I learned from the programme notes that the music was written for a private event and the composer refused to allow it to be played in public for fear that it would damage his reputation. How ironic that it was only widely heard after his death and is now his most popular work.

Carnival of the Animals
Photo by Tanel Meos

The audience, dancers and the small chamber orchestra are all on the Opera House main stage. The intimacy of the setting providing an admirable framework for this enjoyable work. As the programme notes describe, “A boy and a girl are at home alone. To pass the time, they look out of the window and listen to the sounds of the street. The street sweeper roars like a dinosaur, smaller cars cluck like hens, the horn of the trolleybus sounds like a donkey braying and the hum of people’s speech resembles the tweeting of recently hatched chicks. The brother and sister then decide to turn their home into a zoo and act various animals to the sounds of the street.”

Ellinor Piirimäe and Anatole Blaineau took on the roles with a mix of elegant steps and awkward children’s movement. The choreography reflects the humour in the music, and I had a smile on my face for much of the performance. Much depends on the dancers entering into the spirit of the work and these two were wholehearted in their approach. The famous Swan movement is performed in silhouette behind a screen with beautiful, angled arms evoking the swans. Much fun is had with a recalcitrant mule which sees Piirimäe sitting wide legged on the floor beating her fists on the ground in frustration. The butterfly movement sees more restrained steps eloquently reflecting the beauty of the music. Marina Kesler has created varied, entertaining choreography for each of Saint-Saëns’s movements.

Audience at Carnival of the Animals
Photo by Tanel Meos

The production is enhanced by the spirited playing of the orchestra and the sets and gorgeous images displayed on a huge screen. The designer, Reili Evart, was working on a very limited budget and made the set look like a million dollars. The audience of children and parents gave enthusiastic applause, and the popularity of the work means the final performances in this cycle are all sold out. I’m confident we will see the production revived.