English National Ballet’s She Said Offers Opportunities to Female Choreographers

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, She Said: Soloists of English National Ballet, English National Ballet Philharmonic / Gavin Sutherland (conductor). Sadler’s Wells, London. 13.4.2016. (JPr)

Tamara Rojo (Frida Khalo) and Irek Mukhamedov (Diego Rivera) in Broken Wings from She Said by English National Ballet @ Sadler's Wells. (Taken 12-04-16) ©Tristram Kenton 04/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com
Tamara Rojo (Frida Kahlo) and Irek Mukhamedov (Diego Rivera) in Broken Wings
©Tristram Kenton

Broken Wings

Choreography: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Music: Peter Salem (La Llorona sung by Chavela Vargas)
Scenography: Dieuweke van Reij
Lighting Design: Vinny Jones
Dramaturg: Nancy Meckler

Dancers: Tamara Rojo (Frida), Irek Mukhamedov (Diego), Cesar Corrales (Young Boy), Begoña Cao (Diego’s Mistress) and Artists of the Company


Choreography: Yabin Wang
Music: Jocelyn Pook (Traditional Armenian song Dle Yarman sung by Tanja Tzarovska)
Set and Costume Design: Kimie Nakano
Lighting Design: Fabiana Piccioli
Video Design: Matt Deely
Dramaturg: Jorge de Juan

Dancers: Laurretta Summerscales (Medea), Fernando Bufalá (Husband), Madison Keesler and Artists of the Company

Fantastic Beings

Choreography: Azure Barton
Assistant to Choreographer and Video: Tobin Del Cuore
Music: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology – Mason Bates
Costume Design: Michelle Jank
Stage and Lighting Design: Burke Brown

Erina Takahashi, Begoña Cao, Laurretta Summerscales, Crystal Costa, Alison McWhinney, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Isaac Hernandez, James Forbat, Jinhao Zhang, Ken Saruhashi and Artists of the Company

The aims of She Said – a trio of ballets by female choreographers – are admirable; Tamara Rojo, artistic director of ENB, has said ‘We need those female voices on stage, those emotions. We need all ways of expressing feeling. We need everyone on stage … I want to give courage to the women in the Company who have choreographic interest. So not just to commission the work, but to try for the whole process to be an environment that might inspire others as well.’

While English National Opera is in sad decline its ballet counterpart continues its inexorable rise. English National Ballet are the Associate Company of Sadler’s Wells and for this first night there featuring the three world premiere performances and an R-rated Grayson Perry front cloth, it had the buzz of a red-carpet evening. The company is in superb shape and danced with great panache and glorious freedom and plasticity. They also have the benefit of a superb orchestra who played a mixture of – what I suspect was to them – unfamiliar complex ethnic rhythms, expertly. As always under Gavin Sutherland’s vastly experienced baton they provided wonderful spirited support for the often equally high-energy dancing. I was sitting close to the stage and had the impression it was possibly all an atmospheric blend of live and recorded music, singing and sound effects. At times I wished the amplification could have been reined in a little.

Neither male nor female choreographers can do little with the basically restricted ‘modern’ choreographic language for scenario based ballets; movement is sinuous or angular, legs are splayed, limbs bent or intertwined and there are also frequent squats or lunges. There was just a suggestion that there is nothing new to tell or show us and this is the same for this generation’s male, as well as, female choreographers. Anyway gender shouldn’t come into it – a choreographer is a choreographer! As a result, there was a feeling as the evening wore on that I had seen it all before and often earlier the very same evening. It was nearly 10pm before someone leapt or did a pirouette in Fantastic Beings so at least that was something different. The ballets were by no means ‘short’ and lasted approximately 50 minutes, 25 minutes and 35 minutes respectively and could have been improved by a little trimming. .…But that is just my opinion for what – if anything – it is worth.

The first piece Broken Wings will probably live on after She Said because it provides a wonderful central role for a female dancer. The same team – dramaturg Nancy Meckler and chorographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – that created the wonderful A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet – which I enjoyed in 2012 (review) brought us an insight into the lives of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Tamara Rojo’s Kahlo emerges out of a huge cube manipulated by Mexican Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) skeleton-like figures. These act like the Fates from Greek mythology and control her destiny. At the age when she would have been pensioned off by the Royal Ballet Rojo is still at the height of her powers and possibly better than ever. She is totally believable as the young 18-year-old Kahlo finding love for the first time with Cesar Corrales’s Young Boy before the accident that blights her health for the rest of her life …yet ultimately inspired her to paint. Rojo is by turns flirtatious, exotic and erotic but the undercurrent that she is painfully damaged is plain to see. We see her confined to bed and later as in Lucia recently at Covent Garden we see a woman having a very distressing miscarriage on stage.

At times Rojo’s Kahlo is surrounded by some often extravagant and colourfully costumed characters, especially a troupe of male Kahlos which I would imagine was inspired by her paintings. The possible giveaway for that might be the ‘The Wounded Deer’ (1946) which plays a significant part in what we see. Not to be missed is the cameo from the great Irek Mukhamedov as Frieda’s supportive but faithless husband. Unlike Gustav Mahler who forbade Alma to compose, Diego said, ‘No matter how difficult it is for you, you must continue to paint.’ Mukhamedov’s preening Diego was wonderfully dishevelled and not god’s gift to women he believed himself to be. Even though this legendary dancer now keeps his feet firmly on the ground his potent charisma oozed from every gesture he made.

Yabin Wang’s M-Dao provided a Chinese slant on the very familiar story of Medea. She promised ‘a more balanced picture of a “real human being” ’ in retelling the tale of how Jason leaves Medea for another woman (the Princess) and she avenges her betrayal by killing their two children. Played out in shadow behind stage deep drapes this tragic denouement was a highlight of this work. Jocelyn Pook’s restless score was the backdrop to another tour de force this time from Laurretta Summerscales (oddly wearing only one pointe shoe) as Medea. It was all a bit too long even though there was a fine pas de trois as the increasingly bitter Medea attempts to separate Jason from his new love.

Finally, Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings was created through collaborating with the large group of dancers over the seven-week rehearsal period. Perhaps there were just too many ideas and for the most part the 20 dancers all wore the same greenish looking leotards yet were presumably representing different ‘Fantastic Beings’. Barton wants us to experience our ‘own thing’. OK perhaps that we have been seeing the process of evolution which is confirmed by the large blinking eye at the beginning and near the end when under some falling stars everyone seems transformed into hairy ape-like creatures. These are a bit like those you can see in 2001 – A Space Odyssey. There are some nice solos, pairings, rapid skittering movement, as well as, stage patterns and it was ebulliently danced to Mason Bates’s rumbustious, percussive score.

Jim Pritchard

For more about English National Ballet visit www.ballet.org.uk.


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