The Royal Festival Hall used to be the venue for two regular seasons each year for English National Ballet. Those seasons stopped in the 1990s. It was never easy to accommodate the entrances and exits from the wings which meant clambering down the choir stalls and squashing large corps de ballets into the small, available spaces before running on to the stage. The technical crew likewise had many obstacles to overcome with no flies to hang things from. Nevertheless, those seasons were always very happy ones and as a member of the audience, you can see the entire stage from just about anywhere. Thus, there was a warm feeling about returning there to see the company dance, in radiant form, in SOLSTICE, a series of classical and contemporary excerpts ending with William Forsythe’s popular and most uplifting Playlist (Track 1, 2) in full.
Ronald’s Hynd’s Coppélia has been in the repertoire for nearly 36 years and still works its magic. Without sets, but with Desmond Heeley’s gorgeous costumes, the company danced extracts from Act III, the wedding celebrations. Fernanda Oliveira and Jeffrey Cirio led the merry scene as Swanilda and Franz and apart from an unfortunate loss of balance briefly (from which she swiftly recovered) Oliveira is ideally cast as Swanilda, dancing brightly with lovely footwork and beautiful lines. Cirio commands the stage in everything he does with a ballon that is steely and high, combined with soft, feline landings. His crisp, neat technique and buoyant personality is always pleasurable. The Dance of the Hours could have benefited from a more spritely tempo but nonetheless, there was good dancing to be seen.
The other traditional classical excerpts came in the form of the pas de trois from Le Corsaire – fireworks and technical wizardry in plentiful supply from Shiori Kase, Francesco Gabriele Frola and Joseph Caley. Then Jewels from The Sleeping Beauty – this was very competently danced, particularly by the lead couple, Alison McWhinney and Erik Woolhouse, but it doesn’t sit well among what is essentially a gala type programme.
The other standard classical pas de deux was the Black Swan pas de deux (Derek Deane’s version), on this occasion danced by Natascha Mair and Isaac Hernández. He acquitted himself well, with good partnering and excellent solos and did most of the work in terms of interpretation. Mair is ENB’s newest principal and whilst she has beautiful lines and some obvious potential, it appears she needs more time to understand her role and how to discover Odile, beyond the arabesques.
The newer works, without exception, produced resonant and powerful performances. Erina Takahashi and James Streeter tower above everything, revealing the torment in their duet from Dust. Consummate artists both, the dramatic content almost supersedes the effects of Akram Khan’s tremendous choreography. Streeter makes me want to weep openly as the traumatised soldier, comforted by his wife.
Emma Hawes and Junor Souza make an elegant couple in the first movement of Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes – faultless, flowing and both possessing such beautiful, lyrical qualities – they make a good partnership.
In the La Llorona duet from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, Katja Khaniukova brings so much of her own to the role of Frida Kahlo (originally created for Tamara Rojo). Partnered by Fabian Reimair as the portly (fake padding) Diego Rivera, it is packed with clever, nuanced moments which they both manage to expose in magnificent detail.
Hollow is a duet created by ENB’s associate choreographer, Stina Quagebeur, for Emerging Dancer 2020 in September last year. It was good to see it live with its original cast of Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent. Suzuki is the woman suffering from chronic depression – Prigent, the man who longs to help her survive it. Very emotive, this really tugs at the heart, with Prigent searching his very soul to find a solution.
And if that was tough to watch, Playlist (Track 1, 2) sends us all home with a smile and a swagger. My only disappointment is that it doesn’t last longer. Two sections set to house music and on 12 athletic, male dancers who each have astonishing ability – they look like they love every moment and we do too. Their infectious enthusiasm, the unleashing of excessive, delicious masculinity, the sheer brilliance of their dancing, is enough to blow the Corona cobwebs through the stratosphere. It’s difficult to pick out any particular dancer when you are presented with such a plethora of talent but I’m going to risk saying that Cirio, Woolhouse and Rhys Antoni Yeomans reached for the sky and almost made it…
By Deborah Weiss