Undine

Dance / Oblivion

In the series: a story never dies, but is transformed, there is Undine.
I think you all know this story – today, it’s almost from its heart, from its origin, that I’m going to talk to you.

We bet you know it? It’s the story of a man (prince, fisherman, traveler…) who one day finds himself by the sea/lake/water: he meets a young woman – they both fall madly in love. But mad, mad as hell, mad not to be able to get our thoughts out of the other, mad to burn heart and soul.

Ondine – 1909 – Arthur Rackam

Alas – no alas, no story – the young woman is not human – she is a girl from the world of the sea – of the waves – of the foam – and Oblivion is the rule for the human being who meets a wavy woman.
So, when she went back home to ask her father for the right to marry this man for whom she would give everything – he, the human, forgot and he left. He leaves to marry his human fiancée and Undine, the daughter of the waves, conceives a despair that makes the sea howl.

So, you see that you know it? The most famous version comes from Andersen’s tale, The Little Mermaid, and Disney has made a version of it. I won – I say that, … like that – but I won. It was cheated ? No.

It is originally a German tale from the Romantic period (you have to be romantic to walk away in a horrible story like this), written in 1811 by Friederich de la Motte-Fouqué. In his story Undine is a water genius, and the boy is the knight Huldebrand. By marrying him, Undine would regain her soul. She needs the powerful and absolute love of a man to finally realize herself and obviously this will be problematic. All the great images of romanticism are condensed in this tiny book, this tiny tale: the metamorphoses of nature, oblivion, constancy or inconstancy, total love – and it was a success that was quickly adapted for the Opera. And this is a show for me.

But it’s not about storytelling or opera that I wanted to talk about today, but about the dance adaptation.
The story of Undine, great classical ballet, is almost as beautiful as the story of the tale.

Evgenia Obraztsova – Ondine – Bolshoï


Here is a ballet, as terrible and beautiful as Swan Lake. It contains everything that is the soul of great ballets.
And it is lost.
Forgotten – overshadowed by other pieces.
Perhaps Andersen’s tale had sunk it?

It took the obstinacy, envy and madness of two men to bring Undine out of the Oblivion into which she had fallen: Makhar Vaziev, a Russian dancer and choreographer, director of the Mariinsky ballet and then of the Bolshoi, who asked Pierre Lacotte to revive Undine in 2006.

Pierre Lacotte is a former dancer and an absolutely unbelievable enthusiast of old ballets that are lost, forgotten, relegated. It took him four years to find everything back – and after four years it was possible to bring Undine back to life, to grace and joy.
Take a look :

This ballet that took up the theme of Undine, was the one created by Jules Perrot in 1843, especially for the dancer Fanny Cerrito, to music by Cesare Pugni in London. The public came out of it amazed.
No longer a baron, but a fisherman – and frankly, what does it matter?

And to make the party complete —- there was also a huge play, written by Jean Giraudoux. It’s almost the same story – almost.
Searching the world for that which “is not worn out, daily, outdated”, finding a girl called Ondine on the shore of a lake, guessing that she is cheerful, tender, sacrificial … and greeting her deeply, then going off to marry another one named Bertha, wouldn’t that be silly? The one making this speech is the knight Hans von Wittenstein zu Wittenstein. He wandered through the forest in search of adventure. The storm forced him to take refuge with fishermen. The daughter of his hosts entered? and in the heart of the knight the image of his fiancée Bertha faded away.
And there … oblivion had changed sides, he had forgotten the first – will he forget the second?
The moment he forgets his Ondine, he dies and she suffers eternally… well…. that’s another story – almost.

I hadn’t yet talked much about shows focused on the problem of Oblivion: here’s the delay caught up.

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Featured Image : Ondine, painting by Kenra

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