The title Ecstasy and Death for English National Ballet’s latest triple bill was purposely designed to intrigue, and if it in any way raises expectations the performances over the evening comfortably fulfil them. In presenting three 20th century masterpieces, it explores works that arguably represent the height of enigmatic innovation.
Jiří Kylián’s sensuous Petite Mort, set to two Mozart piano concertos, sees half a dozen men alternate between dancing with women and foils. The weapons would seem to represent unbridled lust and power, and yet the relationship with these seems the more honest at least for the choreography makes it tantalisingly unclear whether the couples exude love or coldness. This is partly because the ballet is executed so brilliantly here, the extremely innovative steps seeing an almost mechanical-like precision combining with great fluidity in movement.
Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et le Mort, set to Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor, tells of an artist who becomes so infatuated with an indifferent woman that he is driven to despair and suicide. When the muse is played by Tamara Rojo, ENB’s new artistic director, it is hardly difficult to see the attraction. She can be flirtatious, flashy and cheeky, and combines some smooth rounded movements with highly charged apathy and fascinating rhythmic pulses. Nicolas Le Riche is a brilliant match for her as his muscular, steadfast technique actually proves perfectly suited to portraying anguish, obsession, vulnerability and madness.
Harald Lander’s Études, with piano studies arranged by Knudåge Riisager, is a 50-minute ‘extravaganza’ that portrays dancers going through the rigour of training. It presents a series of vignettes that see various groups trying out different routines from standard exercises to brilliantly complex and enthralling turns. Excellently lit, with some scenes presenting the dancers as silhouettes against a backdrop of blue, both the dances and the music explore Romanticism, Classicism and the 20th century, setting the monumental alongside the playful. The solo turns of Erina Takahashi and guest artist Alban Lendorf are phenomenal, but when we see the dancers working through their steps at the barre, often executing different movements, but all working to the same precise rhythms, we are perhaps provided with the best analogy possible for English National Ballet: that it is one seriously smooth and well-oiled, quality machine.
Until 21 April at the London Coliseum, Saint Martin’s Lane, Charing Cross, WC2N 4ES with start times of 14.30 and 19.30. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets (£10-£67) visit the English National Ballet website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the English National Ballet press team.
Photo: Tamara Rojo and Nicolas Le Riche in Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, © David Jenson.