A Feast of Dance in Grandeur of St Paul’s

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Vivaldi, Rutter, Lalo, Fauré, The Four Seasons, Of A Rose and Suite en blanc: Dancers and Orchestra of the English National Ballet, City Chamber Choir, Emil Chakalov (violin), Gavin Sutherland (conductor), City of London Festival Golden Jubilee 2012,St Paul’s Cathedral, London, 3.7.2012. (JPr)


Laurretta Summerscales : Photo credit: ENB.

According to their website Sir Christopher Wren’s seventeenth-century baroque masterwork St Paul’s Cathedral ‘stands as a symbol and focus of the presence of God in the world and is served by a community of people who work and worship in this place. At the heart of life of St Paul’s Cathedral is the daily pattern of prayer and worship. This daily rhythm of prayer forms the framework of all that we do.’ Not only that but according to Bishop Michael Colclough who spoke before the performance began, there is ‘music and movement in our worship’ and he welcomed the evening of ballet to the venerable church building by requesting us to join him in a moment of reflection before a short prayer. Earlier walking down the nave it is virtually impossible not to be overwhelmed by an immense grandeur and sense of history and at its end the performance space had the high altar as a distant backdrop – never has ballet had such ornate and beguiling scenery. Certainly the sheer size of St Paul’s dwarfed the contribution for many, if some of the remarks I heard at the end of the evening were representative of those of others. I can accept that many in the cathedral’s furthest reaches would have needed the telescope from one of St Paul’s famous ‘residents’, Lord Nelson, to see anything that was going on but under the awe-inspiring dome close to the orchestra and dancers this was not an issue.

The evening began with Van Le Ngoc’s charming and swift-footed choreography to selections from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons Op.8 and the Concerto Grosso Op.3 – music that seems overly familiar. As energetically as the four pairs of dancers performed his steps it was also difficult to shake off the feeling that I had seen it all before. It soon however became clear that the staging they were on did not allow for any grand gestures in the choreography, as the bigger the leap the noisier was the landing. The men had body suits and the women tops and short skirts in pastel shades created by Wizzy Shawyer and I thought I saw the London Eye in the design. There were duets and ensemble dancing involving different numbers of dancers and it was very attractive and might gain more significance on repeated performance. The fluidity of Anton Lukovkin, precise footwork of Nancy Osbaldeston, power of Junor Souza and delicacy of Laurretta Summerscales particularly caught the eye.

Immediately following this the City Chamber Choir sang exquisitely John Rutter’s Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose and Esurientesfrom his Magnificat. The music had the classical smoothness that is Rutter’s hallmark. Of a Rose was another new work by Antony Dowson, a trio for two men (James Streeter and Max Westwell) and one woman (Anaïs Chalendard). It was performed in pastel body suits once again by Wizzy Shawyer, this time with just a hint of petals. Anaïs Chalendard was lifted, carried and held, eventually seeming to distance the two male characters – as a rose between two thorns? It was a physical, evocative and seductive piece that matched the music well and its choreography might benefit from a second viewing too. I recognised a homage to Fokine’s Spectre de la Rose (probably deliberately) and elements from MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, perhaps unintentionally. The strength of Streeter and Westwell and gamine quality of Chalendard added greatly to the impression it did give.

The iconic Suite en blanc, choreographed in 1943 by Serge Lifar, was once forgotten but has been given a deserved renaissance in recent years by English National Ballet in Maina Gielgud’s staging to Édouard Lalo’s entrancing music. There were more group dances, as well as, duets and solos here. The women were elegance personified in their traditional white and their always delicate movement was a credit to Ms Gielgud’s coaching. One the best of these was Jia Zhang in the opening Siesteand later in the Pas de Deux with a strong Max Westwell. It all involves a number of complex sequences requiring quick and detailed footwork and most of the dancing, as well as the partnering, matched English National Ballet highest standards. Apart from one of the male dancers who was probably undone by the lack of support from the platform, it was all nearly faultless. Elena Glurdjidze’s Cigarette variation (that Ms Gielgud originally learned from the choreographer himself) was outstanding and she performed her fast entrechats six with practiced ease. From the beginning through to the ensemble at the end there was a feast of dancing on show that matched its impressive surroundings, it is difficult to single anyone out as I have done but others who must be mentioned are ENB’s undoubted star, Vadim Muntagirov, whose Mazurka bristledwith bravura, panache and leaps that threatened to rise up towards the dome. He was clearly mindful however that he didn’t have the largest space to perform on. Also, Anaïs Chalendard returned for the Flute variation that was full of wit and grace

The cathedral does not have the best acoustics but Gavin Sutherland and his English National Ballet Orchestra also seemed to match their usual impressive level of musical performance and the leader, Emil Chakalov played the Vivaldi and Faure’s Pavane with refined ease. The later was well sung by the choir and soprano Rosemary Zolynski without any dancing. This was the strangest part of the evening for me and I wondered why this interlude was needed. This music has inspired choreographers in the past and might have been danced on this occasion as well.

Jim Pritchard

For details of all English National Ballet’s forthcoming performances visit www.ballet.org.uk.

For the remaining events in the City of London Golden Jubilee Festival 2012 visit www.colf.org.