Lest We Forget- English National Ballet at the Barbican- Sunday 06th April
By Bryony Cooper
It is one thing to challenge a classical company to contemporary works by the likes of Maliphant or Khan, but to present a programme that incorporates that of both, and at a contemporary space like the Barbican, is a brave decision- and one that paid off.
Lest We Forget is a Porgramme that among much else, confirms that artistic director, Tamara Rojo has taken one hell of a leap of faith in the English National Ballet’s ability to turn corners and breathe a breath of fresh air into the ballet world. Created to commemorate the First World War, the programme is richly diverse, including three world premiers by Akram khan, Liam Scarlet and Russel Maliphant.
Scarlett’s No Man’s Land is the evening’s opener. A murky lit stage which in part represents the path to the frontline, and in part a women’s factory setting, perfectly homes the company whom throughout dance with so much heart and honesty that those little hairs on the back of the neck remain stood.
Duets by these mourning women and their heroic loved ones are ignited by delicate gesture and romantic touch. And despite the array of impressive lifts there is really need for nothing more. In a culminating duet, Esteban Berlanga and Rojo herself, captures perfectly Scarlett’s sense of the heartbreaking distance between.
Second Breath by Maliphant is even further afield from ENB’s norm. With much less ‘story’ there is a real feeling of abstract, and the company looks completely at ease doing so. The work clearly establishes the dynamic of war, the regiment, the color, and the solidarity. Building in anguish and architecture, its groupings of dancers form and dismantle again as bodies are carried, flown and tumbled through the space. Accompanied by Andy Cowton’s audio, which tells of the many lives lost, Second Breath is a melancholic, paired down and powerful display.
And just as you think ENB cannot prove themselves any further as a righteous contemporary company, they are back with Khan’s Dust, which is nothing less than a masterpiece. The bare, muscularly defined back of James Streeter as it coils and jerks is a subtle opening image. The full company then proceed to walk with purpose to join him, stopping with a clap of their hands which fills the space around them with a residue of dust that entwined with their earth toned costumes, creates an authentic pictorial battlefield. We are then struck with a surprising force of groundedness that you might normally only expect from the likes of Schechter or Batsheva. In particular there is a prowess at delivering Khan’s fast paced and full-bodied gesture combinations with guts, groundedness and soul. No element of this work is masked by elegance or delicacy. Even in the heart-wrenching duet, every emotion is portrayed with truth and heart- truly a beautiful and captivating work.
George Williamson’s Firebird was also featured, though despite Ksenia Ovsyanick faultless performance, the programme if I am honest could have done without it.