It was Artistic Director Tamara Rojo's vision when she joined the company to give English National Ballet (ENB) a unique and vibrant identity, mixing classical ballets with new works. She has already added Le Corsaire to its repertoire (the first length version performed by any UK company), and Lest We Forget — ENB's current quadruple bill at the Barbican — demonstrates her impressive drive to seek new and innovative collaborations.
Marking the centenary of World War I, there are three new works exploring war by renowned choreographers Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan. Thrown into the mix is also a reworking of company associate artist George Williamson's Firebird, which sits uncomfortably against the other more clearly themed and carefully constructed works. But this minor programming error aside, the evening is a triumphant mix of ballet and contemporary dance, showcasing English National Ballet as it has never been seen before.
Scarlett's No Man's Land is the most classical piece. Exploring wartime relationships, the choreography is exquisite during its final pas de deux between Alina Cojocaru and James Forbat. The couple repeatedly embrace and let go, kissing and trying to keep hold of each other, but are finally parted as the curtain closes. Other sections are mixed in impact, with Franz Lizst's emotive score sometimes overwhelming the dancing.
In Maliphant's Second Breath, individual dancers seem to rise and fall amidst the crowd onstage. Set to electronic music, its war-relevance is the least clear, but the fluid and athletic choreography has a hypnotic appeal.
The closing work — Khan's Dust — offers an emotive end, with dancers Fernanda Oliviera and James Streeter bringing us to tears in their final duet. Dressed simply in grey, at times they feel like animals fighting for superiority; in other moments, their bodies entwine to form beautiful and unusual shapes. Dust didn't make sense to us logically, but we felt its impact deep in our abdomen, as if the choreography had somehow reached out and punched us with its power.
Lest We Forget is at the Barbican until 12 April. Tickets priced £10-£50 are available from the Barbican's website. You can also read more about the bill on English National Ballet's website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to review this performance.