Wayne Eagling’s Remembrance, created in 2018 for New English Ballet Theatre, is a little gem. Set in 1918 during the Great War, it is loosely based on the life of Marie Rambert, who fell in love and married the playwright Ashley Dukes. Eagling explains in a short interview post recording, that he wanted it to be about both the men being sent off to war and the people who were left behind. He chose Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, beautifully arranged by Greg Billingsley (who was also responsible for the original concept) and sung by the Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble. Extraordinarily effective set designs and projections by Nina Kobiashvili, costumes by April Dalton and lighting by Andrew Ellis make this a collaboration that works on all fronts, not least because the dancers are so well cast.
The ballet opens with the marriage of Rambert (Alessia Lugoboni) and Dukes (Alexander Nuttall) then moves retrospectively to their initial meetings and a class at the studios of Serafina Astafieva (Christina Gibbs). This is delightfully reminiscent of Bournonville’s Le Conservatoire, a fly on the wall glimpse of a daily class that looks straightforward enough, but is actually very challenging. The company tackles it all with grace and assurance. A fluid and touching duet for Lugoboni and Nuttall follows. Nuttall has a reputation for being a ‘dream’ partner and it quickly becomes obvious why. His approach consists of three main traits – complete devotion and focus on his partner; make every lift look effortless; tell the story through physical and facial expression. He also happens to be a very good dancer. Paired with Lugoboni, her fragility and sincerity next to his protective demeanour make all the pas de deux particularly poignant.
There are partings, longings and men on the fields of the Somme. Passages of choreography utilising musical canon work superbly well, especially for the soldiers. Lugoboni, on stage for much of the piece, holds her own. In a long, yearning solo where she imagines her lover, her stamina and investment in her character never desert her.
The subject is of course, serious (and historically true) but the simplicity with which Eagling has constructed the work with unambiguous storytelling makes it very appealing and inclusive. It is not just about one couple, but about a set of communities who come together in times of suffering. Karen Pilkington-Miksa, who is the founding artistic director of New English Ballet Theatre, has always had a good eye for seeking out young talent and giving them opportunities. I cannot imagine what a tough year she, her team and her dancers have had (along with everyone in the arts) but it is wholly admirable to release this film, to persevere against the odds, ultimately giving us what audiences want – to be moved, to feel genuine empathy, to be transported into a different world or time. In addition to the recorded performance and a short documentary film about the making of the ballet, Aidan Dun, a published poet and grandson of Marie Rambert and Ashley Dukes, recites a poem especially written for the premiere of Remembrance. It is all well worth watching.
Available at https://www.youtube.com/c/NewEnglishBalletTheatre free-to-view until December 15th 2020
By Deborah Weiss