The setting is Paris at the turn of the 20th century, the Belle-Epoque. In one of French writer Collete’s best loved works – Chéri and its follow-up La Fin de Chéri - Léa, a 43-year-old retired courtesan, stars an affair with Chéri, a spoiled young man half her age, who’s the son of her best friend.
The affair becomes impassioned, all-consuming; but offered the chance of an advantageous marriage to a rich young woman, Chéri leaves Léa. She’s heartbroken.
Six months later, having realised his mistake he returns to the woman he really loves, only to leave again when he is suddenly repulsed by Léa’s ageing body.
World War I breaks out and Chéri is called to fight. He returns a war hero, unable to forget Léa. She, however, has moved on.
Promising material for a choreographer, who can build on the experience of an older ballerina and the bravura impetuosity of a young male dancer. And that’s exactly what acclaimed American choreographer Martha Clarke did two years ago when she created a piece of dance-theatre and cast Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo of American Ballet Theatre as the lovers.
Ferri, who recently made a glorious return to the Covent Garden stage in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, broke her retirement to dance Léa, and her partnership with Herman Cornejo was described by the New York Times as “entrancingly luminous dancing.”
Both Ferri and Cornejo will now reprise their roles at the Linbury, in what must be one of THE dance events of the Autumn.
The piece requires two dancers and an actress who performs the spoken part of Chéri’s mother. As if the partnership Ferri/Cornejo wasn't exciting enough, the actress brought in to play this role is the incomparable Francesca Annis.
Annis will deliver four short monologues to update us on the progress of the affair. “Still in each other’s arms after all these years,” she muses at one point.
Music is a set of piano pieces from composers contemporary with Colette, such as Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, assembled by pianist Sarah Rothenberg and played live on stage.
Martha Clarke is well-known in the USA for her multidisciplinary approach to the stage, having worked in theatre, dance and opera productions, and often brings together elements of all art forms. At its best her work has a dream-like quality, which has been described as “moving paintings.”
Clarke’s style perfectly suits a story of heightened passions and their inexorable ending. Her concept is well served by Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design, which brings glowing morning and falling twilight into the lovers’ bedroom as the affair blossoms and declines. The centre-piece of David Zinn’s set is a large mirror which pitilessly reflects the years that separate the lovers and thus hints at the inevitable death of love.
|Martha Clarke's Chéri, Linbury
|Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP
|Covent Garden (underground)
29 Sep 15 – 04 Oct 15, Afternoon performances on the 3rd and 4th
|click here to book via the ROH website