Emily Labhart

thinking about dance, arts management and cultural representation

Bausch / Forsythe / van Manen – English National Ballet

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed in 1987 by William Forsythe, opened ENB’s triple bill ‘of master pieces of the 20th Century’ at Sadler’s Wells.

Thom Willem’s explosive, dynamic, industrial score is the perfect partner to Forsythe’s vocabulary. A sort of deconstructed ballet class, the dancers perform incredible feats with cool arrogance. Energy erupting as dancers fly across the stage, only to be instantly contained in moments of fierce stillness, before extensions that defy physics and partner work that challenges classical convention – it is incredible to know the first audiences saw this 30 years ago.

Tiffany Hedman and James Streeter in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Image by Laurent Liotardo

Isaac Hernández and Tiffany Hedman deserve special mention for their powerful performances, someone behind me couldn’t help but let out an audible “Wow…” at Hedman’s solo. It was the first time in a long time that I felt exhilarated sat in a theatre – truly excellent work that l would gladly see again on ENB.

Hans van Manen’s Adagio Hammerklavier took us back a further 14 years to 1973 and to more familiar ballet choreography. Women in floating skirts lifted like paper dolls into the sky by bare-chested men, a stark contrast to the empowered female performances in Forsythe’s work. The choreography was beautiful in its traditions but not altogether exciting, the intermittent use of flexed feet and broken lines seemed misplaced against the rest of the work. That being said, it was an honour to see Tamara Rojo perform live – having the perfect partner in Hernandez.

English National Ballet in Adagio Hammerklavierc. Image by Laurent Liotardo

The first UK company with permission to perform the work, which hasn’t been seen in this country since 2008, the evening closed with Pina Bausch’s iconic Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring).

The 28 strong cast do well to tackle this untameable beast. Bausch’s choreography is unforgiving in it’s weight and narrative, requiring the company to move in ways many haven’t before – some traces of their lengthy ballet training prove hard to shed.

Stravinsky’s score, performed live by English National Ballet Philharmonic, is a dark kaleidoscope of sound giving root to the piece beneath the earth laid on stage.

Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du Printemps by English National Ballet. Image by Laurent Liotardo

The fear and desperation of the women, in nude slips with long hair flowing, is a stark contrast to the threat of the men charging through the space, herding them before one is chosen for sacrifice. The dancers hurl themselves against the rhythm of the score, committed to the point of exhaustion to the unrelenting steps. The breath, slaps of the arms, submission to the ground and ritualistic circle are stunning to see live.

Francesca Velicu is put forward, her solo makes an uncomfortable watch as her raw terror pulls her through the manic choreography; I found myself urging her demise to put an end to her suffering.

The unanimous standing ovation was small reward for such an outstanding evening of performance.

Though the young dancers perhaps need more time to mature into Bausch’s work, to allow it to wholly consume them, the programme was one of the strongest I’ve seen – Rojo continues to lead English National Ballet into exciting territory.

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