Reimagining and revisiting: English National Ballet’s Beyond Ballet Russes [Programme 1]

It has, it would seem, been one of those weeks. It has gone on actually forever, I kid you not and I am at that horrible, awful stage of earth shattering exhaustion where a lot of the time even picking my feet up to walk has been too much like an effort. With that in mind, I was somewhat wary as I arrived at my ‘other spiritual home’ (the Coliseum) on Thursday night for ENB’s Beyond Ballet Russes (prog 1) because I was convinced I was going to fall asleep during it and, really, that would just not do.

Three years ago ENB ran two programmes at Sadlers Wells celebrating the centenary of the Ballets Russes (I happened to be there on opening night and saw Stephen Fry OMG!) with such gems as Les Sylphides, Le Sceptre de la Rose and Schéhérezade, this year they’re at the Coli taking that a step further with a combination of revisits and reimaginings.

Programme 1 kicks off with a new Firebird which, I confess, I was wary about going into and even warier about coming out of. I’ve seen Firebird a good few times now and I love it, genuinely love it (princess-apple-throwing dance aside) – I love the music, I love the choreography, I love the sets and I particularly adore that glorious last few moments in front of the city backdrop with everyone lined up as the music soars into that perfect finish. George Williamson’s Firebird has none of that. This is a starker, stripped back Firebird – a tale of purity in the face of adversity and remaining true to oneself. I admit I found myself largely confused. However, Ksenia Ovsyanick’s Firebird is incredible – strong, determined and powerful yet fragile. In her dancing she’s almost untouchable with crazy leaps and extensions and there’s no let up anywhere, carrying the piece with grace.

English National Ballet's Firebird

The middle part of the evening is a revisit versus reimagine comparative study which works suprisingly well. A revival of Nijinsky’s original L’Après-midi d’un faune followed immediately by David Dawson’s 2009 reworking Faun(e). It was really quite exciting to get to see Nijinksy’s original piece having seen various reimaginings of it. It’s a simple piece, performed on the front half of the stage, brief, almost blink and you miss it tale of sexual awakening. The whole thing is sort of like a painting, very two dimensional and almost static in its movements but that’s not to say the piece lacks depth. The feelings between the Faun and the Nymph are quite obvious as they discover each other, awaken new feelings and then she vanishes leaving him alone with a piece of her dress as a passing memento of this moment. Following immediately afterwards, Dawson’s Faun(e) follows the same theme of awakening of feelings but this time between two men. It’s funny, I enjoyed it first time around in 2009 but now it’s more one of those ‘I’ve seen it somewhere before’ pieces. It’s still good and clever – the here I am ,copy me, find your own way, jealousy, come back to me, separate ways. And actually it was a smart move to put it in a programme with Nijinsky’s original because it’s showcasing that, despite how far things come in the ballet world, you can always look back to see where it started.

MacMillan’s Rite of Spring was the closing piece of the evening which also just happens to be one of my favourite ever short works, a close run second to Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Whilst the Balanchine is a celebration of all that is glorious about ballet, MacMillan’s piece takes everything glorious about ballet and pulls it to pieces before your very eyes. This is ballet stripped back in its rawest form and I love it. I love the earthy, stompy nature of the choreo that matches the music perfectly. I love how everything about it is the antithesis of classical ballet – the splayed hands, the flexed feet, so much in parallel, the sharp angular positions. Whilst the company stuck with the original choreography, they’d updated the costume designs for the twenty first century. Kinder Aggugini’s designs are amazing and give the piece a whole new depth of perception. Yolanda Sonnabend’s original costumes add to the earthy, almost primitive feel of the piece. Aggugini’s black designs give it a whole new sinister and almost frightening edge that wasn’t there before – a sense that this sacrifice isn’t something confined to thousands of years ago, it could still happen now. Rite of Spring was worth the ticket price alone.

English National Ballet's Rite of Spring

I am now quite looking forward to next week’s Programme 2…

[All images via the google machine, click to original source]

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