A compilation of duelling performances of Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, with Baryshnikov’s version in White Nights played against portrayals by Rudolf Nureyev, Nicolas Le Riche and Vladimir Shklyarov.
Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is a tale of anguish, morbidity and mortality. One of the more oft-performed modern dances (if you can call a 50-year-old piece modern!), it’s a favourite of premier danseurs, for few are the ballets that spotlight the male dancer as much as, or perhaps more, than his female counterpart of stage. Dancing, acting, partnering – all of it is demanded of the danseur as they tell the story of a young boy driven to a fatal end by the woman he loves.
The clear, minimal narrative (by Jean Cocteau) provides just enough to allow the audience to appreciate what is being performed on stage, while allowing the dancers to perform relatively untrammelled and retaining a sense of the avant garde. Of course, it’s not a thankless role that that the woman of the piece has to dance. Her character is enigmatic, cruel, and très très chic. The Girl is the very definition of la doleur exquise; a far cry from the ingénues of the classical repertoire.
But there’s a reason why Baryshnikov opened White Nights with this piece. As the title suggests, it is the beautiful tragedy of le jeune homme.
Links to the full performances from this video:
Rudolf Nureyev & Zizi Jeanmaire, 1966
Mikhail Baryshnikov & Florence Faure, 1985 (Opening scene in White Nights)
Nicolas Le Riche & Marie-Agnès Gillot, 2005
Vladimir Shklyarov & Ekaterina Kondaurova, 2013