Review: English National Ballet - St Paul's Cathedral
Reviewed: 3 July
The Great Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral may not dominate the City of London’s skyline as it once did. After 250 years of being the tallest building in the metropolis, it was overtaken in 1962 and completion of The Shard now relegates the Cathedral to 35th. But size is not everything and Sir Christopher Wren’s remarkable feat of seventeenth century engineering remains one of the most recognisable landmarks in England.
It is certainly one of the most breath-taking ballet venues imaginable. The cheapest tickets, at the bargain price of £5, were situated at the far end of the 175m nave but I imagine that this is one venue in which the splendour of the surroundings makes distance from the stage not so much of a problem.
English National Ballet has an enviable reputation for adventure and has performed in some iconic venues. How about dancing Swan Lake on a platform in a lake in front of the Palace of Versailles? It has even danced under the St Paul’s Dome before when the company was part of the City of London Festival in 2009, and now returns to help celebrate that Festival’s Golden Jubilee.
This programme was more enterprising than the mix of excerpts given in 2009. The 70-minute triple bill began with two world premieres and – following a brief orchestral interlude – concluded with the full Suite en blanc, which the company has recently rehabilitated in its repertoire to great critical acclaim.
Van Le Ngoc’s The Four Seasons reflected the populist appeal of the selections from Vivaldi’s eponymous violin concertos, which – augmented by an extract from Concerto Grosso – comprised the score. It was especially relevant to St Paul’s since both the architectural and musical compositions hail from the same baroque era. Le Ngoc has created a light, romantic sequence of dances for four pairs, amongst whom Junor Souza and Lauretta Summerscales were especially impressive. In other sections, I confess to a wandering eye, flitting from the fluffy prettiness of the ballet to gaze upon the glory of the dome and the transept beyond. The late evening sun streaming through the magnificent stained glass was an understandable distraction.
Antony Dowson’s Of a Rose also fitted the surroundings superbly, particularly since this trio was performed to three extracts of John Rutter’s Magnificat, sung with haunting spirituality by the City Chamber Choir. It was danced with great feeling by Anaïs Chalendard, James Streeter and Max Westwell. The costumes for both of these early works were designed by Wizzy Shawyer and they absorbed and articulated the needs of the choreography without clashing with the spectacular internal scenery of the Cathedral.
Fauré’s Pavane provided a special interlude with Rosemary Zolynski as the soprano and Emil Chakalov, the solo violinist, before the company’s 142nd performance of Serge Lifar’s classic set of ballet studies in Suite en blanc was given in its most glorious surroundings. The dancers rose to the challenge superbly, none less than Vadim Muntagirov, who arrived to dance straight from the airport, having returned from his debut performance in American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake at the weekend. If he suffered any jet lag then no-one could possibly have guessed. Other bouquets go to the effortless grace of Elena Glurjidze in the fiendishly difficult “cigarette” variation and a charming pas de deux from the regal pairing of Jia Zhang and Westwell. The last rays of the sun finally gave way to the evening as this one-off highlight of the Festival came to a glorious finale.
Photos: Bettina Strenske
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
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