Working with set designer, Åsmund Færavaag, Øyen has created a veritable maelstrom of life in the fairground with characters ranging from a bridal party to the funeral procession for a child and interspersed with lovers, policeman, drunken sailors and drag queens.
This huge slice of life highlights the many parts each of us play and is referenced in the clown-like make-up for the ensemble. The crowd milling between the tall, moveable plinths are in constant flux, the action peppered with bursts of technical brilliance and all expertly directed by Øyen.
The theme is expressed in the opening front-cloth scene as an actor voices Shakespeare’s words, ‘All the world’s a play’. In an intimate moment, the Charlatan, (a hugely impressive performance from Ole Willy Falkhaugen), applies red rouge to the white cheeks of a passive and willing Petrushka played by Daniel Proietto.
In the role Proietto uses his extraordinary fluid body as well as his interpretive skills to create a Petruska of true pathos. A sad loser, he is not without spunk but constantly wrong footed by fate. His limbs seem at times most truly like a puppet’s; hooked on at the joints as he crumbles to the floor in a heap. But as suddenly he flexes his muscles to execute a leap or pirouette.
This contrast is most vividly shown when dancing opposite the Moor, Osiel Gouneo, his rival in love. Cuban trained Gouneo has technical wizardry at his fingertips and is given every opportunity to exploit his bag of tricks while also drawing out the character’s arrogance and self obsession.
The ballet, Petrushka, in both Fokine’s original and Øyen’s new version, hinges on the ambiguity of the puppet/ human but I would have liked the dichotomy to have been more clearly directed. In a cleverly devised setting we see the Charlatan carry each ‘puppet’ onto the stage but as they move into action it is only Petrushka who maintains his dual identity. In choreography and in interpretation both Moor and Ballerina, a sweet and smiley Chihiro Nomura, seem totally human, albeit stereotyped.
The climax in Fokine’s version as the Charlatan tosses the ‘doll’ into the air only to be confronted by Petrushka’s soul was made less telling without a similar reference and Proietto’s final appearance at the high aperture, despite his artistry, was not able to convey the same poignancy.
Nevertheless there is much to enjoy in Øyen’s Petrushka – the vibrant theatricality and wealth of good dance from the company.