Review: English National Ballet — Pina Bausch / William Forsythe / Hans van Manen - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 23 Mar - 1 Apr
Reviewed by Vikki Jane Vile - Monday 27 March 2017

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch performing Le Sacre du printemps - photo by Ulli Weiss © Pina Bausch Foundation

Performance reviewed: 23 March

As her experience as Artistic Director grows, Tamara Rojo continues to get bolder and ever more ambitious.

Before Rojo, English National Ballet felt like a company aimed at the widest public audience, dutifully putting all the classics the public wanted, the Nutcrackers, the Swan Lakes and the Romeo and Juliet’s because this is what ballet was to so many. This tune has been inconceivably changed since and Rojo boldly characterized her plans in a memorable Modern Masters triple bill two years ago.

Her rejuvenation of the company since then has resulted in a run on uninterrupted successes. So much so we’re almost waiting to see if she will ever put a foot wrong. The company very much feels like Rojo’s own now, dancers have come and gone and the corps largely comprises of those who only know Rojo’s tenureship.

Unlike two years ago, the evening opens instead of closes with Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.  The powerful clashing, crashing score is pretty grating after twenty odd minutes or so but choreographically it remains as exciting as ever especially with so many debut performances. There are unexpected and impressive showings from Precious Adams, Madison Keesler and Sarah Kundi who continually caught my eye. Adams undulates so rhythmically and Kundi’s petite frame exhibits the wonderfully snappy musicality required for this piece. Together these nine dancers skillfully bring multiple personalities and textures to Forstythe’s choreography set to Thom Willems relentless score.

Tiffany Hedman attacked the piece with all the confidence and fearlessness of a dancer ranked far higher than a First Artist. For those twenty five minutes she was an accomplished principle demanding the attention of the Sadler’s Wells stage, her lithe legs repeatedly extending beyond imagination into the memorable poses symbolic of the Forsythe’s renowned work. Emerging Dancer winner Cesar Corrales is the standout male in the piece, his strength and precision  enlivening the piece further.

This intense start is counterbalanced by the calming inclusion of Hans van Manen’s trio of duets danced to Beethoven’s Adagio Hammerklavier. It’s a work in which the dancers featured gentle billow as peacefully as the backing curtain that wafts intermittently. And what a sextet of dancers we are treated to the work of. Young Principal Laurretta Summerscales who moved with such zest and athleticism in the Forsythe piece is a picture of control here whilst still managing to convey the rippling undercurrent of tension between the couples in her beautiful arm and head placement. Her dancing is raw and vulnerable and Fabien Reimar is a strong and resilient partner.

Van Manen’s choreography is pure classical heaven and those who have a soft spot for the traditional stalwarts of the repertoire will enjoy this. Beethoven’s score is not demanding for the ear, however it is the slowness that makes it a challenge to dance.

It’s left to Rojo herself to present a masterclass in poise and elegance. The painfully slow balances are so clear, crisp and effortless. Isaac Hernandez meanwhile ably assists her and demonstrates an abundance of energy whilst not losing the feel of softness and sensitivity.

Above all it’s the attention to detail, precision that demands respect here. In a rush to put out new work so many companies appear under rehearsed but that cannot be said about this piece, indeed this whole bill is faultless in its committed approach. The van Manen six make such tricky synchronicity look so effortless.

The evening is completed by the much anticipated The Rite of Spring. Pina Bausch’s 1975 work has only ever previously be danced by Bausch’s own company and the Paris Opera Ballet and as such, securing permission for the English National Ballet collaboration is no small feat.  

Bausch certainly creates an atmosphere of intensity and freneticism that slowly builds but it’s a far less accessible piece for the ballet goer that English National Ballet’s work would once have appealed to. This is no bad thing but, for me, the work felt directionless and the narrative asked too many questions. Criticism aside, nothing can be taken away from 18 year old Francesca Velicu making her debut in the central role here. Her dance of death is a highly uncomfortable five minutes as we periodically hear her cries and whimpers amongst her gasps for breath. It can only be a matter of time before she rises up the ranks.

Put simply, the current English National Ballet are a very exciting company to watch, and with each success under Rojo’s belt, increased anticipation mounts on what she will do next.

Vikki Jane Vile is a freelance dance writer and regular contributor to Dance Today and Dancing Times. Find her on Twitter @VikkiJane

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