New Estonian Ballet Capturing and Beautiful

EstoniaEstonia   Tauno Aints: Modigliani – the Cursed Artist:  Estonian National Opera Orchestra and Estonian National Ballet. Risto Joost (conductor). Estonian National Opera, Tallinn, 21.9.2012

Choreographer and Stage Director: Toomas Edur
Concept of Set Design: Toomas Edur, Liina Keevallik
Designer: Liina Keevallik
Lighting Design: Tiit Urvik

Amedeo Modigliani:  Aleksandr Prigorovski
Jeanne Hebuterne, his wife:  Olga Rjabikova
Leopold Zborowski, art dealer:  Sergei Upkin
Two artist friends of Modigliani:  Jevgeni Grib, Andrus Laur
Berthe Weill, owner of a gallery: Triinu Leppik
Florist: Marika Muiste

Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno in Italy in 1884 to a prosperous family that went bankrupt just at the time Amedeo was born. Already as a child he had health problems that continued throughout his life and got worse through his addiction to alcohol and narcotics. Very early he was interested in drawing and painting and, supported by his mother, he could get an education in arts. In 1906 he moved to Paris where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1917 he met the 19-year-old Jeanne Hebuterne who became his model and lover. Together they had a child and when Modigliani died in January 1920, at the age of 35, Jeanne, who was nine months pregnant, took her life through jumping from a fifth-floor window. This is the background to the ballet, created by choreographer and Artistic Director of the Estonian National Ballet Company Toomas Edur and composer Tauno Aints. The world premiere was on 11 May this year (2012) and the story deals with the last few years of Modigliani’s life. It is a dramatic, sometimes violent performance, deeply tragical and very beautiful. Modigliani’s paintings play an important role and evocative lighting and use of smoke and mists heightens the sense of a dream world – though the sets and many of the scenes are very realistic.

Tauno Aints has worked very closely with Toomas Edur; they even started discussions before there was a libretto. Aints, who also is active in pop music, has written music to dance performances before and the pop connection means that he has used percussion and keyboard instruments in the orchestra and that ‘melody and harmony [are] firsthand means of expression’. This has resulted in a score that is rich and flexible and very beautiful. At times there is a Debussy like haze, at others Mahler and even Stravinsky might have been models. The music is at all times very accessible and those who are sceptical to contemporary art music need not worry – this is music for all tastes without being in the least bland. It feels organically forged together with the action but should, as for instance Tchaikovsky’s, Delibes’ or Stravinsky’s ballet music does, work perfectly well as concert music.

I liked the choreography very much and Aleksandr Prigorovski and Olga Rjabikova in the leading roles impressed greatly, as did the rest of the company. Seeing this ballet one can’t help feeling depressed to encounter a very talented and innovative artist who single-mindedly spoils his life. Modigliani was destitute when he passed away and very few held him in high esteem during his lifetime. This has changed. In November 2010 a nude painting by him sold at a New York auction for £42.7m! I am not generally a keen admirer of ballet but Modigliani captured me very strongly. As far as I could see there wasn’t an empty seat in the theatre and I sincerely hope that this trend will continue.


Göran Forsling