English National Ballet Presents Absorbing Neo-Classical Triple Bill

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Dvořák, Willems,  Modern Masters:  English National Ballet, English National Ballet Philharmonic  / Graham Sutherland) (conductor),  Sadler’s Wells, London, 11.3.2015 (J.O’D)

William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated during English National Ballet's dress rehearsal for their Modern Masters triple bill
William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
during ENB’s Modern Masters dress rehearsal (c) Ash

Petite Mort

Dancers: Alison McWhinney, Adela Ramírez, Fernanda Oliveira, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Laurretta Summerscales, Tamara Rojo, James Streeter, Francisco Bosch, Fabian Reimair, James Forbat, Junor Souza, Max Westwell
Pianist: Julia Richter
Dance Production/Choreography: Jiří Kylián
Staging: Ken Ossola
Set Design:    Jiří Kylián
Costume Design:      Joke Visser
Light Design: Jiří Kylián (concept);   Joop Caboort (realisation)
Music: Mozart, Piano Concerto A major KV 488, Adagio; Piano Concerto C major KV 467, Andante

Spring and Fall

Dancers: First Movement: Alejandro Virelles, James Forbat, Cesar Corrales;
Second Movement: Alina Cojocaru, Kei Akahoshi, James Forbat, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Ken Saruhashi, Anjuli Hudson, Laurent Liotardo, Angela Wood, Daniele Silingardi, Katja Khaniukova, Precious Adams, Yoko Callegari, Maria José Sales, Sarah Kundi, Jeanette Kakareka;
Third Movement: Alina Cojocaru, Alejandro Virelles, Cesar Corrales, James Forbat, Ken Saruhashi, Daniele Silingardi, Laurent Liotardo, Anton Lukovkin, Francisco Bosch, Nathan Young, Grant Rae;
Fourth Movement: Alina Cojocaru, Alejandro Virelles;
Fifth Movement: Ensemble
Choreography, Set, Costumes and Lighting Concept: John Neumeier
Staging: Edouardo Bertini, Ann Drower
Music: Antonin Dvořák, Serenade in E major op.22

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated

Dancers: Erina Takahashi, James Streeter, Tiffany Hedman, Fernanda Oliveira, Makoto Nakamura, Crystal Costa, Barry Drummond, Kei Akahoshi, Alison McWhinney
Choreography, Stage Light and Costume Designs: William Forsythe
Staging: Agnès Noltenius
Music: Thom Willems (in collaboration with Les Stuck)

In its debut as an Associate Company of Sadler’s Wells, English National Ballet presents three neo-classical works from the late twentieth century. Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991), which opens the programme, was introduced into the ENB repertoire in 2012 by its then recently appointed Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo. The other two works are new to the company. Petite Mort was given the most riveted attention, and received the loudest applause. But the applause for William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) came a very close second.

‘To a certain extent,’ wrote dance historian Lynn Garafola, ‘all ballets are about performing and looking.’ Petite Mort is an overt and ironic invitation to look at the sleek, supple bodies of its six male and six female dancers. The focus is not so much on the body in movement, as on the body per se. At the start, the men use rapier-practice (to Mozart) as a way of enhancing their poses. The women look on from the back of the stage. In the tight duets that follow, the dancers reach choreographed orgasm in the form of the grand plié à la seconde, deeply arching backs, and the repeated mid-lift, mid-air crossing and uncrossing of the women’s legs. The final pas de deux is danced by Tamara Rojo herself, with Max Westwell as her partner. Framed by the body of the dancer who is, again, the most three-dimensional of the English National Ballet men, Rojo shows precision in every one of her movements.

While the dancers of Petite Mort advance and retreat on the downstage-upstage axis, those of John Neumeier’s Spring and Fall (1991, revised 1995) move in a collective flow from one side of the stage to the other. This ballet starts with men, too, but men wearing white trousers rather than ribbed trusses. One of them (Alejandro Virelles) will later encounter a woman (Alina Cojocaru) rather as Nijinsky’s Faun encountered the Nymph, or Michael Somes, in Frederick Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet, encountered Margot Fonteyn. Like Fonteyn, Cojocaru seems tasked with the job of getting the man away from the other men of the ballet’s gay sub-text. For what else can the persistent presence of Cesar Corrales represent but that? Cojocaru, Virelles and Corrales perform with fluid, smiling softness. As the ballet progresses, the ensemble dancing of the men becomes woolly. It may be the question of ‘bedding in’ a work that has just entered a company’s repertoire, but by the Third Movement of Dvořák’s Serenade in E major op.22 musicians and dancers seemed to be showing the strain.

There is nothing soft about William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (created at the Paris Opera Ballet on Sylvie Guillem). And if Petite Mort invites the gaze, this final work in the programme both catches and challenges the attention. Wearing leotards or bodysuits of shiny, emerald-green, the dancers perform in their own shadow on a grey floor. Sometimes they perform facing the back wall of the stage. What they perform to is the thud, clunk and crash, to a ‘strict 4/4 time signature’, of Thom Willems’ recorded score.

According to dance writer Deborah Jowitt, Forsythe’s work ‘knocks the classically trained body off its Apollonian verticality’. And James Streeter does exactly that to himself in the middle of the stage, before going back to do it again. He also flouts ballet’s graceful hand positions by keeping his palms raised. But it is impossible to see everything that the dancers are doing (every knee that turns in, every hip that juts out), however much one would like to. For there is never only one thing happening. What you are left with is glimpses and impressions: Barry Drummond taking to this deconstructed ballet movement like a duck to water; Alison McWhinney tracing a line down one side of the stage. Somebody else will have noticed Kei Akahoshi, or Fernanda Oliviera, or Makoto Nakamura. In that sense, the group is more important than the individual dancer. The final, fast-paced pas de deux, by Streeter and Erina Takahashi, is not even strictly speaking a pas de deux. As they dance it, a watchful but indifferent Tiffany Hedman is off to the right, moving slowly through a sequence of her own. You might be looking at them; you might be looking at her; you can’t be looking at both. You are just beginning to get the hang of it, when the stage goes dark.

John O’Dwyer

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