The corps de ballet shone in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.
English National Ballet in George Balanchine's Theme and Variations. © Laurent Liotardo
Set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky's third orchestral suite, the ballet is all about patterns, built on the music's 12 variations.
It has one principal couple, four solo pairs and and a corps of 16; for each variation the lead solos are interspersed with ensemble dances. It comes to an exhilarating finale with a grand polonaise for the whole cast that evokes the grandeur of imperial Russian ballet.
On opening night lead principals Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta were good in the slow variation, but elsewhere lacked the exhilarating speed and attack which American dancers, Balanchine’s natural interpreters, bring to his work.
Andrea Miller’s Les Noces, Ascent to Days, requires a a measure of homework to be properly understood, as its narrative is far from self-explanatory; so, carefully read the programme notes beforehand.
In this especially commissioned piece, the American choreographer took Stravinsky’s score for Les Noces (a ballet that depicts a peasant wedding in his native Russia), but set aside the wedding theme, opting instead to imagine the aftermath of The Rite of Spring, in which a young maiden is chosen as a sacrificial victim to propitiate the gods.
The curtain goes up on a darkish stage heavy with foreboding, where sculptor Phyllida Barlow’s set is a rugged block of rock where uneven steps have been roughly hewn. Black-clad singers from Opera Holland Park chorus, in thrilling voice, are lined up at the back.
You have to know that the young woman wearing only a section of shredded shift (an affecting Breanna Ford), who takes up much of the initial dancing, is in fact the ghost of The Rite’s sacrificial victim.
Breanna Ford as Chosen One, James Streeter as Father, Rentaro Nakaaki as Son & Alice Belline as Mother in Andrea Miller's Les Noces © Laurent Liotardo
She haunts a family; the generic tribe around them get ever more frantic. Again, you need to know that the gods seemed unmoved by the original sacrifice, so the growing tension on stage is the prelude to another human sacrifice.
Miller’s bare foot contemporary choreography is intense, urgent, and the dancers did full justice to her interesting, often involving, but really very difficult work.
British choreographer’s David Dawson’s Four Last Songs (pictured top) had its world premiere in this programme. Set to Richard Strauss’s poignant song cycle, sung live by soprano Madeleine Pierard, Dawson’s ballet is performed by twelve dancers in nude body suits.
Arms stretched upwards, lofty lifts and urgent runs mirror the music’s striving for eternal serenity in the face of death.There are moments of intense beauty, where the dancing fuses effortlessly with the music, gloriously played English National Ballet Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland’s baton.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, Four Last Songs is an undemanding ballet, and I for one was grateful for that.
|What||English National Ballet, Our Voices Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
21 Sep 23 – 30 Sep 23, 19:30 mats Sats & Thu 28 at 14:30. Dur.: 2 hours approx inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|