24 September 2015 at 12.14pm | Comment on this article
The Story Begins…
The retired courtesan Léa has raised her friend’s son Chéri – but as he gets older their feelings towards each other change. As their relationship blossoms into a love affair, Chéri’s mother, Charlotte, looks on bitterly. She waits for their love to run its course, but when it shows no signs of abating, she takes matters into her own hands.
A Classic of French Literature
Chéri is inspired by the French writer Colette’s 1920 novel of the same name and its 1926 sequel Le Fin de Chéri. Colette was one of the most significant figures in early 20th-century French literature. She first found fame as a writer with the Claudine series, published under the name of her first husband Henry Gauthier-Villars (Willy). After leaving Willy she supported herself as a writer and music-hall dancer; many of her novels, including Chéri and Gigi, met with instant acclaim. By her death she had published nearly eighty works and become the first woman to be appointed president of the Académie Goncourt.
A Lifelong Passion
Choreographer and director Martha Clarke explains that her Chéri is not ‘[Colette’s] Chéri and The Last of Chéri literally – it’s a point of view about them, an adaptation’. Clarke has been drawn to the writings of Colette throughout her life, but ‘for me [Chéri] has more meaning now, because what I fell for was the fact that a woman who was beautiful and youngish accepts ageing with grace and humour. And perhaps this was the time for me to do it, since I’m no longer young with a huge horizon ahead. It was the woman loving the young man and letting him go, with grief and sadness but acceptance’.
‘Like Playing a Stradivarius’
Clarke created Chéri on world-renowned dancers Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. Clarke adds that ‘both their talents are so extraordinary it’s like having the chance to play on a Stradivarius violin’. Ferri as Léa and Cornejo as Chéri share the stage with an actress, who plays Chéri’s mother and speaks lines adapted from Colette’s writings by playwright Tina Howe. Amy Irving created the role for Chéri’s premiere in New York in 2013, for the show’s London performances acclaimed English actress Francesca Annis takes the role.
Chéri is set to a series of piano works of composers contemporary with Colette, selected and performed onstage by pianist, artistic director and writer Sarah Rothenberg. The score includes sections by familiar names such as Ravel, Poulenc and Debussy, but draws most extensively on piano miniatures by the Catalan composer Frederic Mompou, who lived in Paris 1911–41 and whose music beguilingly melds Spanish and French influences.
Chéri runs 29 September–4 October 2015. Tickets are still available.