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Sarah McCrory on Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro

‘This performance, exquisite as always, is at once emotional and precise’

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, FEI World Cup London, 2016, film still. Coutesy: FEI

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, FEI World Cup London, 2016, film still. Courtesy: FEI

In December 2016, Charlotte Dujardin reperformed a Grand Prix dressage routine which won her the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics. This performance was to be her last ever with her horse Valegro, who was retiring.

Before she became a star, Dujardin was working as a groom for the dressage hero Carl Hester. She was training the novice Dutch warm-blood gelding Valegro for Hester to take on; however, it soon became clear that the horse wouldn’t perform well for anyone but Dujardin – so Hester supported the young groom to take him to the top.

This freestyle performance is set to patriotic British music. It opens with the chimes of Big Ben and includes extracts from Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance (1901–30), Gustav Holst’s The Planets (1914–16) and the theme from the movie The Great Escape (1963), which, in 2012, was deemed a humorous gesture for the Olympic Games. However, this final performance took place some five months after the referendum that saw the UK vote to leave the EU. This performance, exquisite as always, is at once emotional and precise. I like to think that the communal shedding of tears was as much for the withdrawal from the EU as it was for Valegro’s retirement.

Despite this sadness, watching this, and the original performance, defies logic. Much like when you catch an Agnes Martin painting alone in an empty Tate gallery and the light is perfect; or when you finally see, in the flesh, a work by Henri Matisse that you’ve written about and seen in hundreds of reproductions – this performance was a work of art.

Sarah McCrory is Director of Goldsmiths’ Centre for Contemporary Art, London, UK.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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