The Soldier's Tale ( L'Histoire Du Soldat ): Igor Stravinsky, Jiří Kylián - screener

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The Soldier's Tale ( L'Histoire Du Soldat ): Igor Stravinsky, Jiří Kylián

Jiří Kylián, Nederlands Dans Theater

Year: 2014, 51 mins
Code: AH-Soldier

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Jiří Kylián feels a great affinity for Stravinsky, who, like himself, was forced to leave his homeland. He describes the composer's music drama, L'Histoire du Soldat, as a 'surrealistic fairy tale for grown-up children'.

His version of the piece uses the original French version libretto by Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. With scenery and costumes by John MacFarlane, this studio recording features Nacho Duato as the soldier who sells his soul to the Devil for wealth, but is forced to wander the world.

The onset of the First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917 had drastic consequences for Stravinsky in his Swiss exile: his property was confi scated, and he thereby lost the rights to his works and the associated income, leaving him in a situation which isolated him as an artist.

Stravinsky and his librettist for L'Histoire du Soldat, Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, had the idea of 'founding a travelling theatre which, with as little funding as possible, could be moved easily from place to place and perform in small meeting places.' It involved a street ballad-like series of scenes about a pact between a soldier and the devil which was 'to be read, played and danced'.

The associated new work, with its diversity, its structure, the switching between narration, action, mime and dance, and its elements from tango, English Waltz and Ragtime, could not have been categorized under any genre which existed at the time.

The world-renowned choreographer Jiří Kylián (Czechoslovakia, 1947) has been artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater for nearly a quarter century. After having created three ballets for NDT
(Viewers, Stoolgame and La Cathédrale Engloutie), Kylián became the company’s artistic director in 1975 together with Hans Knill. In 1978 he and Carel Birnie founded NDT 2, meant to offer young dancers the opportunity to develop their skills and talents and focus on maturing their artistic personalities. In 1991 he initiated NDT 3; a company that created opportunities for older dancers. NDT stood out as the first company worldwide that showed the three dimensions of a dancer´s life. After an extraordinary record of service Kylián handed over the artistic leadership in 1999, but remained the company’s house choreographer until 2009.

Since his last piece Mémoires d’Oubliettes for NDT in 2009, Kylián’s creative focus has shifted to more small scale projects and films. Kylián’s entire body of work counts 100 creations to date, of which 77 performed by NDT and no less than 75 were especially created for the company. Furthermore, he made pieces for companies worldwide such as the Stuttgart Ballet, the Opéra de Paris, the Munich Bayerisches Staatsballett, and the Tokyo Ballet.

Kylián received many prestigious, international awards and honours, such as Officer of the Royal Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau, Honorary Medal of Order for Arts and Science of the House of Orange given to him by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, honorary doctorate of the Juilliard School in New York and the Honorary Medal from the President of the Czech Republic. To this day, Kylián’s masterpieces are frequently performed by numerous dance companies and schools around the world.

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, Musicweb

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