Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009
By restaging Igor Stravinsky’s tale of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil in 2004, British director Will Tuckett looks downright prophetic. The play’s moral about the folly of trading the important things in life for money may be timeless, but The Soldier’s Tale seems particularly suited to the moment.
Stravinksy created The Soldier’s Tale in 1918, at the end of World War I, basing his work on a Russian folk story. Composed during a time of great hardship, the genre-defying piece—meant “to be read, played and danced”—was intended to be performed on the back of a truck with minimal cast, staging and musicians.
The story follows the trials of a soldier who trades his beloved fiddle (and, in the end, his beloved herself) to the devil in exchange for a magical book that leads to untold riches. But when the soldier realizes he has lost his lover—and, with her, his happiness—in exchange for wealth, he tries to reclaim his old life. The “Grand Choral” passage of the piece even contains the bromide: “No one can have it all.”
Tuckett, a renowned ballet director and choreographer, worked with certified superstars for The Soldier’s Tale in its Covent Garden debut, many of them familiar figures in Japan. To the delight of Tokyo dance fans, the original cast will be appearing in the six-day run at the New National Theatre in Hatsudai.
Among the performers, Adam Cooper as the innocent soldier and Will Kemp as the raffish narrator (here a nightclub emcee) are both beloved of Japanese audiences. A former principal of the Royal Ballet, Cooper (above left) became a superstar as The Swan in dance-theater innovator Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and, in Japan, has performed with both Bourne and the Royal Ballet. He is also known for his own productions here, including a recent version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Kemp (above right), a.k.a. the “James Dean of ballet,” also came to prominence in the Royal Ballet and Bourne’s New Adventures company. In Japan, he is remembered for turns in Bourne’s The Car Man and Play Without Words, as well as for the key role of Prince Velkan in the film Van Helsing.
Also in the cast are current Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky as the soldier’s true love, and Matthew Hart, a former Royal Ballet soloist and choreographer, as the devil. Hart served as guest artist and choreographer for Tetsuya Kumakawa’s K Ballet Tokyo in 2003-04.
The current production features sets and lighting from London by Lez Brotherston (Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake) and Neil Austin. Stravinsky’s notoriously difficult score will be handled by a seven-piece orchestra under the baton of Royal Opera House regular Tim Murray.
The Soldier’s Tale
British Royal Opera House performance starring Adam Cooper, Will Kemp, Zenaida Yanowsky and Matthew Hart. Sep 11-16, various times, ¥6,300-¥12,600. New National Theatre, Shibuya. Tel: Sunrise Promotion 0570-00-3337.