English National Ballet, Sadler's Wells (venue)
25 March 2017 (released)
27 March 2017
By compiling a trio of favourites from the late 20th century canon into a single evening’s entertainment, English National Ballet has achieved a double success: a night of recent greatest hits to thrill the ballet faithful, as well as a stone-cold classic mixtape to woo any novice admirer.
The central piece, ADAGIO HAMMERKLAVIER by Hans Van Manen, forms the blueprint for the structure of the evening, given its cool, formal clarity, based on three couples. The piece was devised in the early 70s, as a diversion for three sets of principals to dance, while they were otherwise working on a production of Swan Lake. A simple, billowing curtain backdrop, and the gentle drapery of the performers’ costumes, offers the piece an austerity that allows the audience to immerse themselves entirely in the beautiful interplay between the dancing and the lingering piano. The effect is neoclassical: spare, pleasing and timeless, like modern marble sculpture.
IN THE MIDDLE, SOMEWHAT ELEVATED reads like the title of a postmodern novel, and with good reason. It starts as abruptly as it ends, and the completely bare stage and unmodulated bright white light forces absolute focus on the interplay between the urgent, electronic soundtrack and the stark, repetitive dance motifs. Essentially a theme and variations, Forsythe turns a traditional format into a piece that feels exhilaratingly modern, and indelibly 80s in the way in which the “cut-up“ aesthetic in the choreography is mimetic of contemporaneous video art, or hip-hop sampling. The score by Thom Willems, who collaborated with Forsythe throughout his career, comes across as a sophisticated take on the Art of Noise. The occasional Keith Haring silhouette spliced in amongst the more classical ballet poses completes this insistent, gripping collage. A bravura piece, rightfully worthy of its international reputation, and a stunning opening number.
However, the most anticipated element to this programme is Pina Bausch’s THE RITE OF SPRING, as this is the only the second time a ballet company outside of Wuppertal has been afforded permission to perform this masterpiece, and the first time in the UK. Such a coup is largely thanks to Tamara Rojo’s input as Artistic Director of ENB, and there is a packed house as a result. The stage is spread in a thick layer of dry brown earth by an army of technicians (a fascinating physical performance in itself!) while the ENB Philharmonic tune up in the pit below, before being hurled into Bausch’s bleak vision of the human condition. It’s utterly relentless, and the raw physicality of the performance is evidenced by the audible panting of the 28 dancers in the more muted passages. A frenzy of extreme emotions is unleashed throughout the piece, produced in the tension between the frailty of the solo performances and the savage, mob-like threat of the collective choreography. There is both relief when it ends, and spontaneous admiration for its execution, by way of standing ovation.