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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L' Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale)
Choreography by Jiri Kylian
Soldier…………………Nacho Duato
Devil…………………..Aryeh Weiner
Alter Ego…………… Gerald Tibbs
Mother……………… Teresina Mosco
Fiancée……………… Fiona Lummis
Friend of the Soldier….Lionel Hoche
Princess……………….Karin Heyninck
Tango danced by…… Sabine Kupferberg Glen Eddy
Waltz danced by…… France Nguyen Phillip Taylor
Ragtime danced by… Brigitte Martin James Vincent
Nederlands Dans Theater
Conductor: David Porcelijn
ARTHAUS DVD VIDEO 100 132 Subtitles (narration) in English and German [51 mins]

At the outbreak of the First World War, Stravinsky emigrated from Russia to Switzerland where he composed L'histoire du soldat in 1918. It is a work that reveals the influence of jazz but also reflects the disillusionment felt by many at that time - the story is full of allegorical meaning. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), the librettist of the work (the words are spoken over the ballet by a narrator) was a Swiss writer and essayist who published his works in French.

The Soldiers Tale is a drama that is a timeless creation with roots in no particular place. In a series of scenes designed "to be read, played and danced", and based on the street ballad tradition, the story is about a soldier's pact with the devil. Returning home on leave, he is persuaded by Satan to exchange his fiddle for a mysterious book. The devil promises him a lift home on his shoulders and that, with some pleasant distractions en route, he will be home in three days. But the soldier awakens to find three years have passed and that his fiancée has married another. From there on it is downhill all the way with him making and losing a fortune, losing all his loved ones, but saving the life of a princess. Yet it is she who ultimately seals his fate when he unwisely gives in to her insatiable curiosity and takes her to see his homeland for he has been told that if he crosses the borders of her land he will be forever damned.

Stravinsky's score is based on seven instrumentalists: clarinet, bassoon, tenor and bass trombone, double bass, cornet, violin and snare drum. The piece is centred on the violin which represents the soul of the soldier. The eleven musical pieces that comprise the work begin with the leitmotif of the soldier's march, the melody of which is passed from one instrument to the next above a constant accompanying figure in the bass line. One of the highlights of the ballet is the three dance miniatures by the Princess consisting of a stylised Argentinian tango, an English waltz and an Afro-American ragtime. The culminating devil's triumphal march with ghostly skeletal drum rhythms sees the soldier's soul consigned to the pit as Satan appears, in his true lurid red colours, to claim him.

The visual elements of this ballet are excellent. The sets are sparse but clever. Stage flaps open to reveal children's book cut-outs of buildings for instance, Costumes are equally convincing with the devil first appearing in what looks like a clergyman's dog collar; the Fury's dressed in flowing black diaphanous robes; and the Princess's dancers are dressed in carnival clothes. The lighting and special effects are equally impressive. But the main praise is for Jiri Kylian's imaginative and elegant choreography. The story has its roots in early puppet theatre plays about the pact between Mephisto and Faust, consequently much of the jerky, grotesque movements particularly in the opening scene, attributed to the soldier, as he is making his way home, suggest marionette manipulation. It is as if this is a foreboding of the devil's own manipulations. Further on, when the devil appears in a scarlet military tunic to shoot down a troop of soldiers (a very funny sardonic episode) the soldiers are 'frozen' in attitudes suggesting the stances (on their flat stands) of the tin soldiers we played with as children. Another allegory of satanic manipulation. Kylian's dances are beautiful and intricate and, more often smoothly flowing with some very impressive ensemble work between duos, trios and more dancers. The leading dancers all shine.

One of the more impressive Arthaus DVD releases and recommended.

Ian Lace

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