This last week has been rather busy for me. Whereas most students spend Spring Break getting drunk somewhere nice and warm, I was instead spending mine travelling around the UK visiting universities, family and friends. This was due to my impending deadline of choosing between the University of Bath or Warwick University to pursue my PhD at. Incidentally, I have chosen to go to Bath, so if anyone knows of a good Adult Ballet class in Bath or Bristol let me know!
After 14 different train journeys in 6 days I ended up in London on Thursday 17th March with a plan to just head to my hotel and sleep before my 5am pre-flight wake-up. Well, that was until I saw that English National Ballet were performing their Black & White mixed bill at the London Colleseum that night!
After buying a ticket in the Upper Circle I met some friends that afternoon before returning for the 7:30 performance, which incidentally was being filmed – I’m guessing for Agony & Ecstasy, the documentary following ENB recently shown on the BBC. I haven’t been able to watch Agony & Ecstasy while in the States, but I’m hoping it’ll either be repeated when I’m back in the UK, or released on DVD later in the year.
Now it sounds a trivial point, but I wanted to mention how impressed I was with the programme for the evening. Sure, it wasn’t free like Playbills are, but I didn’t mind paying for such a high-quality photos of the pieces and intriguing interviews with the choreographers. I also found it amusing to compare the ranks to those at NYCB or ABT. At the American companies there are three ‘ranks’: Corps, Soloists and Principals. At ENB there are quite a few more: Artists, First Artists, Junior Soloists, Soloists, First Soloists, Principals and Senior Principals!
The bill opened with Eagling’s Resolution, accompanied by a collection of poems by Friedrich Ruckert with music by Gustav Mahler and all sung expertly by Elizabeth Sikora. I enjoyed this piece but feel it almost overshadowed itself by the stunning final poem – a trio which was so striking that it dominates my memory of the piece.
Resolution by Wayne Eagling (Photo credit: ENB)
I was glad to have read the programme entry for this piece prior to the performance as Eagling talked of creating it for a Muscular Dystrophy charity event. This specific form of Muscular Dystrophy particularly affects young men, and Eagling discussed how inspired he had been by the bravery and courage of the young men fighting this dreadful illness. The final dance in this piece was for three men and showed one’s fight against the burden of the others and seemed to express his fear and fight, his helplessness and hope. There was a certain rawness to the dance but it was also danced with much emotion and was one of my favourite segments of the evening.
Next up was the Black Swan Pas de Deux – a reasonably last minute addition to the bill and not perhaps a necessary one. Although danced expertly, I couldn’t help but wonder if this had been added solely due to the Black Swan movie – although if it brings audiences in, I won’t complain! On that note though, MAC makeup had “created a stunning look” for this piece which, from the upper circle, looked almost identical to the movie posters of Natalie Portman, and was a bit ‘too much’ in my eyes (or rather, Odile’s eyes).
Takahasi and Gruzdyev were very accomplished as Odile and Siegfried. Initially I felt Takahashi’s movements were a little too precise and deliberate in the opening section, but she seemed to loosen up a little in the Odile variation, which was fantastic. Siegfried’s variation was great, although just like at NYCB we had the issue of black tights on a black background making those lovely arcing jetés virtually invisible. The coda finished with some great fouettes and a la seconde turns (everyone seems to forget Siegfried keeps dancing after Odile’s 32 fouettes, so here’s a shout-out for all the Siegfried’s out there!). As much as I enjoyed this piece, I think I would have preferred to see it in the ENB’s full-length Swan Lake (being performed next week) as I think part of the thrill of this Pas is the change we see in Odette/Odile.
Men Y Men by Wayne Eagling (Photo credit: ENB)
Men Y Men was a piece Eagling choreographed during the 2009 season as an ‘antidote’ to Giselle. Performing Giselle meant a demanding season for the females in the company, but left the men without all that much to do. Eagling therefore took some Rachmaninov piano preludes (which were later orchestrated) and created a showcase for the men of the company. His aim was to show off the hallmarks of a danseur: turns, jumps and lifts; all while creating an interesting piece.
Well it was fantastic! Like Patrick Corbin’s piece with American Repertory Ballet, this managed to be artistic whilst proving just how athletic and awesome these dancers are. The main section involved a ‘never-ending’ cascade of men walking across the stage, two or three at a time (there were only 10 dancers in total, meaning lots of running backstage I guess!) while various guys would ‘break the norm’ through a pique arabesque leading into a solo.
This was following by a three by three square of the men whence they did a sequence of rapid chaînes – the front and back rows doing two right then two left and so on, whilst the middle row went in opposite directions. It was great that the piece featured a full range of dancers from Principal down to Artist and yet they were all very tight and precise.
Eagling has said that in the future he hopes to choreograph a companion piece for the women in the company, and then a piece for the whole company to combine the three into a mixed bill – if they are anything like Men Y Men then I can’t wait to see them!
Vue de l’Autre was a new work (that had only been premiered the night before) by Van le Ngoc, a principal in the company. Choreographed to music by Ludovico Einaudi I was intrigued to see some fresh, young choreography. The last new work I had seen was Plainspoken by Millepied at the New York City Ballet fall gala, which although impressive had not really been to my taste (I found it a little too abstract).
Opening with the dancers in running poses backed by nothing but silence I thought we were going to experience something not unlike Wayne McGregor’s Entity – sharp and abstract. Instead, a romantic work followed highlighting relationships and love.
The first duet was set among the stars and rather pretty. At one point the man held the girl up in the air as if trying to give her the night sky, or putting her up there as his guiding light. A trio followed involving the giving and receiving of a single red rose. I’m not entirely sure that the rose was appropriate here: although there was some inventive choreography going on, I felt the rose verged on being a gimmick. Indeed my only real issue with the piece was at times it verged on cheesily romantic. Also I wasn’t too sure about the costumes – in light blue unitards with metallic details the men looked more suited for figure skating than Ballet!
To contrast the rose section, the next duet involved the ballerina draped in a long flowing chiffon scarf and created some stunning “freeze frame” moments – I hope the Company’s photographer got some good shots! Next followed a trio reversing the earlier trio – rather than two women and a man, we now had two men and a sole woman.
Following that was a segment where all the ballerinas wore the same long scarves as we had seen earlier and included a rather telling moment with the girls throwing their scarves off for the men to run and pick up for them. A metaphor for many relationships methinks? Finishing we had a duet by the two men from the earlier trio, which was particularly touching, before a final couple rounded off the piece.
Clement Crisp described this piece as being “too fragile” for the public and I can see what he is alluding too. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am excited to see Ngoc’s work as he grows and matures in the coming years. Having previously choreographed to Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack from Ameliè, I personally would like to see Ngoc choreograph a full length ballet in the future – a modern love story with similar music to Ameliè or this piece. I think this could be a way to interest younger audiences into Ballet, especially if paired with the distribution of Sky Arts HD (ENB’s season sponsor).
Suite en Blanc by Serge Lifer (Photo credit: ENB)
To finish we were treated to the brilliant Suite en Blanc, choreographed by Serge Lifer to music by Edouard Lado which has been deservedly getting rave reviews. Not knowing anything about the piece I was first pleased to have an overture! All too often we spend so much time concentrating on the dance that it is easy to forget about the orchestra and it was nice to appreciate them without getting distracted by beautiful dancing!
When the curtain finally lifted we were treated to a stunning scene with a plethora of white tutu-clad ballerinas and danseurs. The scenery was simple yet effective; a pair of staircases at the back of the stage leading to an elevated walkway which kept the stage interesting without detracting from the dancers.
What followed was an exemplary one-act ballet, which avoided a plot and instead simply treated us to stunning dancing. I find it interesting that Lifer was in the Ballet Russes as I found myself being reminded of Balanchine choreography at times.
One thing is sure though, Lifer sure likes his entrechats! It seemed every segment was heavy on entrechat sixes and the like, all expertly executed by the ENB dancers.
Highlights for me included the Pas de Cinq portion: I mean, with one ballerina being partnered by 4 men what is there not to like? Let’s just say that Nancy Osbaldeston certainly had control of the four men (Anton Lukovkin, Van le Ngoc, Laurent Liotardo, Yonah Acosta). The intriguingly named ‘Cigarette’ solo was expertly danced by Anaïs Chalendard but I think one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night went to Vadim Muntagirov dancing the Mazurkas solo. Muntagirov danced with such passion and vigor it was a true pleasure to watch. I also did not envy Fernanda Oliveira for her ‘Flute’ solo, which had a most peculiar and intriguing rhythm to it. Needless to say she danced it superbly.
Finally we were treated to a reprise of the sections as the dancers reappeared and finished in formation. It was truly a showstopping end to the evening and I hope the dancers felt the audiences appreciation as applause filled the theatre.
All in all this was a perfect end to my trip back home, and a most enjoyable evening (although any evening I get to watch Ballet is enjoyable!). It’s also prompted me to start saving a “David’s trips to London to watch Ballet while at Bath” fund – donations welcome!
Until next time, keep dancing!