It was one of those ‘I was there’ moments that will be remembered always by a lucky few. Ivan Vasiliev’s single guest performance with English National Ballet in Le Jeune Homme et le Mort was one of startling brilliance, of great power and heartfelt emotion for his purpose in performing was to offer his own personal tribute to the late Roland Petit.

Ivan Vasiliev © Laurent Liotardo
Ivan Vasiliev
© Laurent Liotardo

Vasiliev, the Bolshoi Ballet’s superstar, had been in London rehearsing Frederick Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet with the Peter Schauffus Ballet when news of the death of the great dancer, director and choreographer was announced. Vasiliev had worked with Petit in June 2010 and had danced Jeune Homme at the Bolshoi Theatre, and the two had appreciated each other’s work so much that they were planning more collaborations–Petit had stated that he would create something specifically for the young Russian’s talents. Emotionally saddened by the news, Vasiliev approached Wayne Eagling, director of ENB to see if he could dance, without fee, one of the performances of Jeune Homme in the company’s summer season at The Coliseum as his own mark of respect and love for the great man. With the help of Petit’s right hand man, Luigi Bonino, Vasiliev rehearsed the role, though there were ‘on-off’ problems in obtaining his visa. Fortunately on July 21st it was confirmed that he would be dancing and the ticket office tills began to ring as fans heard and passed on the news. They weren’t disappointed.

Before he had even danced a single step, it was obvious that this was to be one of those truly memorable performances. From the angle of his position on the unmade bed to the first languid drag of his cigarette and slow exhale of smoke, there was a definite frisson in the auditorium. And then he sat up. Clad only in blue jeans showing well-developed pecs on his bare chest, a furrowed brow and agitated glances at his watch and towards the door, his intensity of feeling was evidenced throughout his whole body. When he moved, he was like a captured panther, leaping agilely onto and over the table, throwing chairs around, using the limits of his small artist’s garret to bash out his pent-up feelings. When his lover appeared in her bright yellow dress with a sinister but cunning stance, the power of her rejection of his open, desperate desire for her was felt way up into the highest corners of The Coliseum. The Girl, danced by Jia Zhang, exhibited a caustic cruelty , complete with a smirk on her face, as she callously cajoled the young man into his final act of suicide. Always elegant and upright, her moves were sharp and cutting, her long straight bob flopping over her face as she turned this way and that, her scissor sharp legs beating out at him in vengeance.

Vasiliev at 22 years old showed a maturity of his art way beyond his age. Renowned world-wide for his rocket streaming leaps and multiple turns, he has also proved himself a strong actor as well --but never as powerful as he was in this performance. He was completely absorbed in the role and on stage after the many curtain calls had been taken, he—and Bonino also—had tears running down their faces from the outward and inner emotion he had presented. Vasiliev looked upward and through his tears said,” It was for him. I hope it was good enough”. It was more than good—it was a masterpiece and Petit would have been highly honoured by such a performance.