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Jiri Kylian and the Nederlands Dans Theater’s 1984 production of L’Enfant et les sortilèges (complete in five 10-minute segments).
A gentle flame, abiding and steadfast, the memory of that afternoon still glows in my heart. In our plush seats before the thrust stage, you, Lia and I, moved by the naked art of dance, were, for a while, a family. Yes, with Ingrid and Klaas visiting friends and Joost with his grandmother, we were parents to a fairytale daughter, and she was with us in flesh-and-blood. I was your husband, you were my wife; we lived happily ever after, for an afternoon.
We both loved Ravel’s music, and we both detested Colette’s libretto. How could she, such a master in mining ambiguity, produce a tale so devoid of contradiction? So linear, so flat, so singularly lacking in multi-layered meaning? Lia herself found the Child silly and the Mother ‘much too heavy’. And yet, thanks to the transformative power of dance and the magic of the music, my senses were heightened, Lia was held spellbound, and you radiated a beauty that left all possibilities open.
Ding, ding, ding: Trumpet triads in driving rhythms set loose Grandfather Clock’s cymbal-crashing dancer; curves counter angles in striking kinetic images while the rich baritone of Clock’s counterpart laments the days when he ‘told the hours, each like the other, in this changeless house’.
What a wretched thought, ‘each like the other in this changeless house’! And this deathly desire posited as a virtue by a writer who celebrates life! No matter: The raw physicality of the dancer and the beauty of the balletic line negate the death wish. Lia beside me is wide-eyed with delight, her animistic thinking accords with mine. And you, my love, you who in your intimacy with the Queen of Sciences formalize space-time, are you too delighting in the destruction of the Clock?
As Clock returns to his grandfather casing, trombone and contrabassoon bring on Cup and Teapot to dance a foxtrot. In vain the Child, braving Teapot’s threats, tries to interrupt the duet. Cheese grater and whip introduce a touch of ragtime, then, as mezzo-soprano and tenor sing trilingual nonsense, the Chinese Teacup dances a chinoiserie. When she leaves the stage with Teapot, the Child now regrets the loss of his beautiful teacup.
Things cannot feel and act: Lia knows better! She is a child attuned to the deeper stirrings of the world, she is a child uncorrupted by rationality: Enlightenment cannot override enchantment, no accumulation of facts can compete with her personalized concepts! To raise a child like that, would we be up to the task? We would, I’m certain of it! Instinctively, we’d validate the fantasy that allows her to bear feelings of anger, jealousy or frustration. ‘Now I am light, now I fly, now a god dances through me’: Are we not children of Nietzsche? Of course we’d be up to the task of raising a child like Lia!