If this first performance of the new English National Ballet/Sadler’s Wells partnership is anything to go by, Artistic Director Tamara Rojo has made a clever decision in bringing her dancers to the new, open-minded audience of the North London dance house. It is a treat and a half to see the likes of lead principal Alina Cojucaru and Rojo herself at such close quarters, in all their sinewy glory.
Each a milestone in the evolution of contemporary ballet, the evening’s works form a programme it’s difficult to argue with. The careers of Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier and William Forsythe have made a vital contribution to the development of contemporary dance, and ENB’s powerful performance does them justice.
Petite Mort, Jiří Kylián
Drawing on the Freudian link between love and death, Jiří Kylián created Petite Mort, ‘Small Death', a piece where everything plays against its opposite. Six men dance opposite six women. The male dancers balance fencing blades on their fingers, while the female dancers float behind exaggerated, wooden black gowns. An entire cast vanishes beneath a sheet of black, only to reappear in their Gaultier-like, boned undergarments, the barest unisex cover.
To the soft and instantly recognisable melodies of Mozart’s Piano Concerti in A Major - Adagio, and C Major - Andante, Kylián laces this balance of sex and death with rare elegance. Every note is taken up with trailing arches of limb and body, and little ecstasies of feet and hands.
As the piece splinters into duets, every dancer is a curved and sinuous triumph (although in the first night cast I found it hard not to pick out the lovely Tamara Rojo) and the audience was captured from the start.
Spring and Fall, John Neumeier
As ENB pushes forward its reputation for modernity, they add the claim of being the first UK company to take Spring and Fal into their repertory, making this a UK premiere. But, like Kylián, Neumeier is a classic of modern dance. Spring and Fall edges away from traditional ballet: palms flatten and parallel arms are straight and strong, but this note of change is rung against a lyrical background of pointe shoes and pliés.
Danced in loose white, there’s a hint of cyclic, seasonal change. A gentle pas de deux plays out a courtship and the corps gather with a sense of community to Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings in E Major.
While the piece is without plot, Neumeier is a story-teller, and first cast lead Alina Cojucaru draws out a winsome sense of drama. It’s a piece that has infinite respect for the traditions it slips away from, and the ENB dancers capture both tradition and innovation naturally.
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, William Forsythe
This is an evening of superlative dance, but the final work was utterly flooring, and the audience were barely able to restrain their cheers until the curtain dropped.
Nine dancers of Nureyev’s Paris Opera Ballet, Sylvie Guillem among them, brought this radical departure from classical ballet to a bare stage in 1987. Guillem’s long limbs and hyperextension are remembered as the ultimate performance of this work, but the smaller dancers of the ENB bred a new, compact and cocksure swagger into the movements.
Petite Mort revealed some variation in the dancers’ musicality, but any untidiness was banished here, every dancer striking against the rigid rhythm of Thom Willems’ score with force and precision. They dance with spectacular, aggressive athleticism, but never without supreme control.
If Spring and Fall innovates quietly, American deconstructionist Forsythe throws tradition into the air and juggles it. ENB pull off every taught bend and lithe kick with slick assurance: a breath-catching addition to the repertory.
This is likely to be some of the best contemporary ballet London will see in 2015, so ballet-lovers should not miss it.
|What||Modern Masters, English National Ballet at Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Roseberry Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
10 Mar 15 – 15 Mar 15, Also at 14:30 on the 12th and 14th. No 19:30 performance on the 15th
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|