The first half of the programme, a trawl through the company’s history interspersing film and live performance of excerpts of 16 ballets old and new, ran impressively smoothly.
It opened with a short film, where distinguished figures of the company’s history reminisced. Former dancer Eve Pettinger recalled being there at the very beginning, when, she said, the company consisted of ’13 girls and two boys.’
Founded in 1950 by dancers Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, the company was originally named London Festival Ballet. However, the name denoted a certain impermanence so, as the company established itself and built an enviable repertoire, eventually the name was changed to English National Ballet.
ENB established its own school in 1988 and current students of the school, too, danced at the gala.
The actual performance started impressively, with an extract from a now rarely performed work, The Three-Cornered Hat. It was originally created for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on a score by Manuel de Falla and designs by Pablo Picasso, blending ballet with Spanish flamenco. Sergio Bernal, guesting from the National Ballet of Spain, twirled his bright red cape and produced a mean zapateado with impeccable salero, as well as throwing up perfect classical double tours en l’air.
It was the right decision not to run these extracts in chronological order; rather, they were placed in sometimes contrasting, sometimes complementary ways. So, the Dance of the Knights from Rudolf Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet (Nureyev is another stellar name in ENB’s history), was immediately followed by a thrilling sequence from Akram Khan’s multi-award-winning Giselle.
Each showed a distinctive way of moving ensembles on stage; sequentially, they provided a clear illustration of the company’s journey.
There was pure classical dancing, for example, the Jewels pas de cinq from Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty, and Broadway-inspired dance such as Balanchine’s Who Cares? on a score by George Gershwin.
Some extracts worked better than others, and the level of dancing varied quite a bit, with the sparkling Shiori Kase standing out, and the company men having a ball in the final piece of the half, William Forsythe’s showy, athletic, tongue-in-cheek Playlist (Track 2).
The second half of the programme brought us Harald Lander’s Etudes, first danced by ENB in 1955.
It is a black and white ballet based on dancers’ daily class, starting with the most basic exercises at the barre and progressing to sequences of increasing degrees of complexity and difficulty, culminating in a Grand Allegro where both women and men show their prowess.
Again, some of the dancing, in particular corps de ballet coordination, was not all it could be, but it would be churlish not to highlight the commitment and brio of the company and the genuinely exciting final sequence, with principals Shiori Kase, Erina Takahashi, Fernanda Oliveira, Isaac Hernández, Joseph Caley, Jeffrey Cirio and Francesco Gabriele Frola firing off jetés and pirouettes as if their lives depended on it.
A perfectly timed shower of confetti and gold ribbons exploded onto the stage and stalls as the stalwart English National Ballet Philharmonic conducted by Gavin Sutherland, rang the final note of Czerny’s score, after which ENB’s current artistic director, Tamara Rojo, spoke of her pride in the company, to which, over the past seven years, she has brought her own far-reaching vision.
|What||ENB's anniversary gala review|
|Where||London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, , London , WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
17 Jan 20 – 18 Jan 20, 19:30 Sat mat 14:00 Dur.: 3 hours approx inc one interval
|Price||£15.80-£166.80 (discounts available)|
|Website||Click here to book|