When to see it
This work is being performed as part of a mixed programme:
The Royal Ballet's mixed programme brings together two of Jerome Robbins's masterpieces with MacMillan's powerful depiction of love and loss.
A male dancer is sleeping in a ballet studio. Languidly he rises and begins to stretch. A girl enters and begins to warm up at the barre. They fall into a trancelike pas de deux – which ends with the boy kissing the girl on the cheek.
The girl hurries out of the studio. Left alone, the boy goes back to sleep.
Jerome Robbins created his Afternoon of a Faun in 1953, early in his career. He was inspired not only by Debussy's music, and the choreography of Nijinsky's scandalous 1912 ballet, but by the dancers in the rehearsal studio around him: a young man stretching in the sun; two young dancers working on a pas de deux, seemingly unaware of its sexual resonances. The resulting ballet has a truth and poignancy characteristic of Robbins's greatest works, and has become one of his most enduring ballets.
Jean Rosenthal's scenery and lighting design creates a sun-drenched studio. Walls of translucent silk suggest a dreamlike world. The 'fourth wall' becomes a huge mirror – throughout the ballet the protagonists gaze into the audience, obsessed with the image of themselves. An essay on narcissism, an idle dream or a parable of sexual awakening? Robbins's subtle and ambiguous setting lets us decide for ourselves.
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Afternoon of a Faun is a ballet made by Jerome Robbins, subsequently ballet master of New York City Ballet, to Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. The premiere took place May 14, 1953 at City Center of Music and Drama, New York, with scenery and lighting by Jean Rosenthal and costumes by Irene Sharaff. Robbin's setting differs from the original version by Vaslav Nijinsky by placing the danseur in a ballet studio (a three wall set) lounging on the floor. A ballerina enters and they dance facing the audience as though looking into the mirrored wall of the studio. He kisses his partner on the cheek, and she bourrées out of the studio and off-stage. He returns to his initial supine position.