Review: Ballet Russes Encounters at Peacock Theatre

Performance: 29 March 2010
Reviewed by Victoria Hill - Friday 9 April 2010

English National Ballet. Esteban Berlanga and Raphael Coumes-Marquet dance 'Faun(e)'
Photo: Annabel Moeller

Russian maestro Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes live on. Following on from last years flurry of events marking the centenary of the formation of the pioneering company, Sadler’s Wells community and education department Connect joins forces with English National Ballet and two of its Associate Artists and their companies – Russell Maliphant and Wayne Mcgregor | Random Dance – to present work by world class companies alongside work made with community groups – all in response to the Ballet Russes centenary anniversary. Collaboration was the hallmark of Diaghilev’s style and so too is tonight’s programme. The audience of the Peacock Theatre is full with young and old, excitable and raring to go – with tickets at just £5 for a packed evening.

Unpacking David Dawson’s *Faun(e),* _a piece that references Vaslav Nijinsky’s _L’Apres midi d’un faune, created for English National Ballet’s Ballet Russes season, was a challenge. Exploring the syntax of classical dance, dancers Esteban Berlanga and Raphael Coumes-Marquet cajole each other in a love affair involving sweeping elegant lines and deep circular movements. After the wonderful compositions for the English National Ballet Orchestra from students of Parkwood Hall School which started the evening superbly, the two-piano arrangement of Debussy’s world famous score and a rather plain set and costumes seem minimalist in comparison. Although the dancers are charmingly graceful in their duet, I notice obvious references to original dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and Dawson’s attempt at a similar anti-ballet style appears cheap. Coumes-Marquet’s gestural pointing to the audience reminds me of Nijinsky’s ‘indecent gesture’ (humping of a scarf) that caused such a scandal during its time, and comes across as flat and meaningless. Dawson has taken a revolutionary work and deflated it. Unfortunately the bare set design and modern costumes don’t work for me and simply give the feeling of being in a more familiar rational world, weakening the unworldly charm that was Nijinsky’s primitive, animalistic fawn and his bas-relief nymphs.

More poignant are Sadler’s Wells resident Company of Elders; their *Iteration 2010*, challenges the culturally ingrained valuing of youth that seems to exist today. The 25 strong company, aged from 61 – 87, have a wonderful air of subtlety, a quality eluding many young dancers who are taught that technique is paramount and expressiveness secondary. The piece begins with a confetti of dancers under blue lighting who fiddle and writhe with one another, in duets, alone and in groups. They are attentive and gracious as they trace one another like the figures in the paintings of Diaghilev’s collaborators. Just as Diaghilev was effective at encouraging the creative gifts of the people he worked with, choreographers Jasmine Wilson and Kerry Nicholls, of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, deserve all the plaudits for demonstrating the elegance of age, striving for a more natural, expressive choreographic style.

Following another lush score from the students of Parkwood Hall School, unspoken hosts of the evening, we are met with the haunting presence that is dancer Daniel Proietto in Russell Maliphant’s *Afterlight* _(made for Sadler’s Wells’ _In the Spirit of Diaghilev programme last year). Poised in a single source of light, we can barely make out an identity as he unfurls with sculpting limbs. There is plastic clarity in the movement- the serene rhythm, shape and energy produced give a distinctive flavour, reflecting on drawings by Nijinsky produced during his period of insanity, full of arcs and circles. But there is nothing insane about this, in fact it’s rather clever as Maliphant uses a classic score, Satie’s Gnossiennes to evoke the senses, yet manages to make his own demands on the music with movement direct as an avalanche. Proietto is strict, precise and in constant shifting motion, though staying within a certain vocabulary addressing the torso and corresponding to positions of the back: curving, arching, twisting and tilting. This is Maliphant at his best and an indication of even better things to come.

The evening’s highest praise, however, goes to Tiffin Boys Youth Dance Company with Salvage. Using Wayne McGregor’s *Dyad 1909* _(also part of _In the Spirit of Diaghilev) as a starting point, the young boys produce a fabulous eruption of movement set to skitter-clatter beats, which burst out like earthquake tremors. They tumble over one another, jumping in geometric patterns and soldier crawling out of the space in a highly challenging movement vocabulary that is intent on focus. McGregor himself also stood out tonight, presenting Ossein, a quirky solo for Antonie Verecken, which again celebrated challenging physicality, Verecken piercing through air in contrast to the harmoniously complex piano music of J.S. Bach.

Undoubtedly Encounters has been a huge success. The merging of art forms, age and ability in interpreting Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, has not only been a lesson in dance history, whether an accurate one or not, but has also vouched for the sustainability of dance as a whole – such creative microcosms of opportunity in performance widening access to dance and encouraging a more diverse audience.

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