She Persisted: Females In Focus In English National Ballet Triple Bill

She Persisted, Sadler’s Wells ★★★★☆

Tiffany Pritchard
By Tiffany Pritchard Last edited 17 months ago

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She Persisted: Females In Focus In English National Ballet Triple Bill She Persisted, Sadler’s Wells 4
Katja Khaniukova as Frida Kahlo with English National Ballet Artists in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings part of She Persisted (c) Laurent Liotardo

English National Ballet’s latest female-centric offering, She Persisted, is as powerful and highly-charged as its 2016 critically-acclaimed predecessor, triple bill She Said.

Inspired by the outspoken courage of US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s now-legendary speech —for which she was reprimanded with the show’s title — She Persisted was born out of ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo’s desire to give female choreographers a platform to shine.   

Katja Khaniukova as Frida Kahlo and Irek Mukhamedov as Diego Riviera in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings part of She Persisted (c) Laurent Liotardo

Rojo drives the ball forward with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, a piece originally commissioned for She Said, as well as Pina Bausch’s notable Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), and the debut of Stina Quagebeur’s Nora, which is based on the complex leading character in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  

While Broken Wings is not nearly as swiftly-paced as the other two pieces, it is nevertheless incredibly moving, giving a voice to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo's damaged and vibrant life.

Rojo herself masterfully performed the role in 2016 with the skilful Irek Mukhamedov as her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera. The new version sees a solid performance from Katja Khaniukova in the Kahlo role, who, together with Mukhamedov, conveys a tender passion through beautifully sweeping dance movements.

Crystal Costa as Nora with English National Ballet Artists in Stina Quagebeur's Nora (C) Laurent Liotardo

The Day of the Dead dancers and brightly clad male performers mirror the many shades of Kahlo’s self portraits — the latter invoking characters who act as the artist’s guardian angels as she shakes and trembles through the chronic pain that followed her serious bus accident in 1925, along with the turmoil of Rivera’s adultery. Another poignant choreography piece grapples dramatically with Kahlo’s later miscarriages.

Quagebeur’s Nora follows. While the story of Ibsen's The Doll House is faintly recognisable, the dance piece dazzles with flowing movements courtesy of Crystal Costa, whose Nora is seen sumptuously spinning, sliding and gliding along the floor to Philip Glass’s emotional score, Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Erik Woolhouse and English National Ballet Artists in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du printemps, part of She Persisted (c) Laurent Liotardo

The final segment, Bausch’s iteration of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, is an epic, physically demanding piece centred around a ritualistic sacrificing of a victim. Dancers shimmy, leap and contort like wild animals with such gusto that their chests bellow in and out with their heavy panting still audible. No many how many times you see it -  the choreography remains riveting, and exhausting to watch.

The ENB is only the third company to perform this piece, and Bausch’s challenges faced in getting the innovative production approved by critics and audiences in 1975 are further testament to the steely determination of women artists mounting daring goals to the public.

So it is with praise that Rojo continues to forge such paths, and give female choreographers a voice, a feat she builds on from the 28 other female-led works she has commissioned during her seven years at the ENB.

She Persisted, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, EC1R 4TN. Tickets £38-£70, until 13 April 2019.

Last Updated 06 April 2019