Future + Present + Past / Ecstasy and Death / English National Ballet – 20 April 2013

23 Apr

ENB EcstasyThis was the first programme fully put together by the new Director of the English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo. It read like a ballsy statement of intent and it overall read as a fresh, exciting start for the company.

Since January and after a radical re-branding  complete with new logo, new promotional campaign and some combative interviews, Rojo made it clear that the astonishment of her announcement in April 2012 that she was quitting the Royal Ballet and joining the ENB as a Director was sustained. The company had a dancing ballerina as its boss back in its founding years with Alicia Markova and judging on this outing Rojo seems to have been a huge source of inspiration for the company.

Petit Mort

Is a stylish vintage piece by Jiří Kylián, new to the company. Opening with the male dancers handling their swords in both playful floor sequences and in more combative use with the other soloists. The costuming for both male and female dancers were sharply tailored skin coloured bodices and shorts. The sleekness and simplicity allowing for full concentration on the intricately physical choreography with a clear focus on body contact and exertion of torsion. Set to two excerpts of Mozart piano concertos the work acquired a taste of serene classicism that almost turned into a baroque interlude when the female dancers skated across the stage in formation in large black 18th century gowns. In one snap movement they broke that initial impression by escaping the stiff dresses and wriggling their way out like a chrysalis from the cocoon. It surely caused a few knowing laughs in the audience. The female dancers deployed a large swathe of fabric that covered most of the stage and created a certain separation between individual sections. The most interesting part of it was the sexually combative relationship between the couples, clearly capitalising on the post coital state referenced in the title of the work. It was sleek, beautifully lit and the dancing was a jolt of vitality much needed to get the afternoon started. Special mention also for the sensitive and alert piano playing by Chris Swithinbank.

Le Jeune et la mort

In this first revival since the production in 2011 as part of a Roland Petit triple bill, which I absolutely loved. This second staging of it and in such diverse company the true classic nature of the work was even clearer. The elegance and depth were highlighted by the electric partnership of Tamara Rojo and Nicolas Le Riche who acted their way the grand guignol scenario laid out by Jean Cocteau. Her fetishistic, morbid, sadistic persona was the perfect foil for Le Riche’s louche and spectacularly acrobatic performance. He may not be as young as ideally one would like but his way of interpreting the choreography feels deeply personal. No jumps or contortions seemed laboured, all informed the core of the work and illuminated this 1946 classic.  The fraught relationship brought into relief with Rojo’s solid presence emphasised the macabre heart of the work to the fore. While Acosta and Chalendard brought a more edgy more obviously confrontational couple to life, this time it was more complex and more assured.  The potent mix of sexuality, smoking and desire was as potent as it was believable. It goes to show that when the director dances, and attracts such starry company, incredible things happen.

Etudes

It is a slightly love and hate piece by Harald Lander  as it scales up a ballet class to an intricate feast of fouettes by the principal male and female dancers. It is a great work to impress guests at a gala and the fact this was the 750th performance is a clear indication how popular it has been in the intervening 50 years. It was performed with joyful abandon  if not exactly classical perfection. Unfortunately it is the kind of show off confection that I very rarely find engaging, but as a way to boost morale and bring most of the company together has a very useful function to serve.
It’s traditional form was in contrast to the other two works but made a great addition into telling the story of where the company started from, an outfit directly descended from the Ballets Russes. Setting the path where Rojo wants to take the company, based on its classical 19th century foundations with the bohemian European air of Petit to the more surface polished world of Kylián.

I brought two ballet newcomers with me to the performance and they were impressed by the variety of dance on offer and also wanted to know much more about Rojo. It seems the gamble she took in becoming director is starting to pay off. I am very excited to see the future developments and of course their upcoming brand new Le Corsaire. Rojo is aiming high and seems to be geared up to hit the bull’s head.

ENB Ecstasy list

Curtain call

Production shots by the ENB

And a few Tweets

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2 Responses to “Future + Present + Past / Ecstasy and Death / English National Ballet – 20 April 2013”

  1. Mirto_P 24 April 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Love the first two works, but can’t abide Etudes. I think it’s those cloying arrangements of the Czerny, ugh. Etudes is in regular rotation at Boston Ballet, coming back yet again next season, alas.

    • George aka OperaCreep 24 April 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      The feeling is mutual, not a work I want to see again soon. In context of this triple bill it worked as a way to denote the company’s existing repertoire. Much more excited to see what new works they will add to future mixed bills.

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