Peer Gynt, Ballet by Edward Clug
Edward Clug’s ballet, Peer Gynt, draws its inspiration from one of literature’s most intriguing creations. The protagonist in Henrik Ibsen’s original verse drama of the same name, on which Clug’s ballet is based, is a self-seeking anti-hero, beset by dilemmas. The reactions of the other characters to his behaviour, as he seeks simply to be true to himself, serve only to throw him into further confusion. Ultimately, he is a lost soul unable to understand the world around him.
The story of Peer Gynt is one that cries out for ballet to interpret it. Its narrative dips in and out of the surreal, a quality that dance has a far greater capacity to express than a play. Indeed, at first, Ibsen did not intend to stage Peer Gynt at all. Published in 1867, it wasn’t until 1876 in Christiania (modern-day Oslo) that Peer Gynt was finally performed. Its incidental music, commissioned by Ibsen from Edvard Grieg, if anything, is better known than the work it was written for.
After being banished from his village for stealing a bride on her wedding day, Gynt encounters the Mountain King, a troll. He offers Gynt the chance to become a troll himself - an opportunity to live by his own rules - but he can’t face up to the responsibilities doing so would entail (including fathering the Mountain King’s daughter’s child).
Gynt leads a dissolute existence before returning to find Solveig, the woman who has awaited his return since the moment he was exiled. Bewildered by her reaction to his reappearance - happy and thankful rather than angry and resentful - Gynt is left in purgatory, still unable to resolve what he should have done with his life.
Clug’s Peer Gynt, also set to Grieg’s wonderful music, was premiered on 6 November 2015 by the Slovene National Theatre Maribor. What one immediately notices about it is the degree to which its performers don’t just dance but act out the drama through Clug’s masterful choreography. Now set to appear at the Vienna State Opera, this is a stage work that quite brilliantly portrays its protagonist’s existential crisis in a way that only ballet can.