What a night. English National Ballet celebrated its platinum anniversary with a feast of music, dance and reminiscence. Archive film footage showed key moments in the evolution of the London Festival Ballet (coined to cash in on the post war Festival of Britain at the Festival Hall) from humble beginnings in 1950 to the change of name to English National Ballet and the move to the London Coliseum. Pre-recorded interviews featuring past directors and dancers brought to life the history of the company.
One former dance recalled how Rudolf Nureyev got so angry one day that he threw his flask against the wall mirror cracking it and costing the impecunious company a fortune. Another noted pointedly that the company was subjected to snobbish condescension from some members of the Royal Ballet. The evening’s dance programme was an absolute treat. Hit after hit, gems from the repertoire where performed in 5/10 minute versions by some of the outstanding dancers alive today. The English National Ballet Philharmonic conducted by Gavin Sutherland played every piece with passion and enormous verve.
And to conclude a truly unforgettable evening Artistic Director Tamara Rojo with the whole company standing behind her on stage gave a rousing cri de core, homage to the past and promise to carry on the unique vision and commitment of English National Ballet to provide ballet of the highest standard to as a wide an audience as possible. Seeing no contradiction between tradition and innovation English National Ballet continually strives to find new ways of making dance live a fresh, a new for today’s audiences. Now ensconced in its brand new state of the art rehearsal building in Canning Town, East London, the company is well placed to face the future. This is vitally important work may it continue to thrive and prosper.
No piece better illustrates the creative originality that ENB encourages than Aram Khan’s extraordinary choreography for his 2014 piece Dust. Performed by Fabian Reimair and artists of the company, Dust is haunting, mesmerising and utterly compelling. A line of dancers holding each other by the elbow create a Mexican Wave type flow of movement which is so intricate and fascinating in the way it manages to evoke so many layers of meaning. Are we trapped? Or do we need this connection? Are these people with us? Or against us? Are they saving us? Or dragging us down? Maybe all of the above? It’s a haunting piece, which demonstrates the sheer power of dance to express thoughts and feelings unavailable to other art forms.
Another piece that showcased the dynamic and exciting potential of ENB’s house style on offer last night was Playlist (Track 2) a piece choreographed by the outstanding American William Forsythe. A drum and base rhythm gives the dancers scope to spring, bounce, jump, skip, hop, twist, turn and leap into the most joyous celebration of dance as freedom to do what you want. Exhilarating.
Alongside these highly innovative and cutting edge pieces were classics of the repertoire: Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, Carmen, Coppelia, La Sylphide, Strictly Gershwin – The Man I Love. The Gala reached a fitting and wonderfully apposite climax. Harald Lander’s Etudes set in a ballet class provides the perfect analogy for the ENB. As the dancers practice they gradually encompass the whole company, the entire stage space and the full range of the orchestra so that come the finale the auditorium is fully alive to the astonishingly electrifying power of dance as an art form. A fitting end to a memorable evening.
Review by John O’Brien
Classics of the Ballets Russes (that inspired our original vision) melt into modern productions; archive footage of the Company dissolves into live action on stage; and extracts from great masters – Balanchine, Petit, MacMillan and many more – follow one another to create an astonishing, dream-like look back at our history, and that of modern ballet.
The evening concludes with a stunning showcase of the great talent across all the ranks of English National Ballet, with Harald Lander’s Etudes. This favourite of our repertory, which we first performed in 1955, begins with traditional ballet exercises and steps and ramps up to a show-stopping display of dancing.
70th Anniversary Gala
17 – 18 Jan 2020