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REUNION: English National Ballet at Sadlers Wells, May 2021


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I went, so nearly didn't bother it being a Monday evening with the prospect of getting drenched on the way there or back. 

 

It was fabulous, what an uplifting evening, what a great mixed bill to return to the stage with.

 

There was much variety in the 5 shortish pieces each of which was introduced by a brief video clip in the rehearsal room and a few words from the choreographer or dancers. 

 

I enjoyed everything, if I had to pick highlights it would be Russell Maliphant's Echoes for the stunning combination of lighting and movement, Stina Quagebeur's funny and warm Take Five Blues, the haunting Dido's lament in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Laid in Earth and the finale, Arielle Smith's superbly entertaining Jolly Folly. In the recorded clip Arielle Smith said she wanted to make us smile and she achieved that in spades. 

 

All the dancers were absolutely terrific, you could tell how much it meant to them to be back. 

 

It finished by 9 which included a short introduction from Alastair Spalding and Patrick Harrison. 

 

 

 

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Anna (above) summed it up pretty well. I had few qualms travelling up town  (even avoided the heavy showers in the main part), as the trains still pretty empty. Even the tube from Angel to London Bridge was pretty empty on the way home - the 9pm finish meant getting to LB for the 9.25 home was easily doable, which was a bonus!

As for ENB - what a delight to be back in the theatre, to see live dancing (and even hear some live music). Brief thoughts on each short piece:

'Senseless Kindness' (set to Shostakovich by Yuri Possokhov) was mesmerising, capturing the mood changes in the music beaitifully. Some of the lighting was a bit dodgy from up in the 2nd circle though!

'Laid in Earth' (Sidi Larbi Cherkoui, half to Purcell and and half to some electronica). Not my sort of music, and had mixed feelings about this one. Some of it was gorgeous - some of it was just rolling around on the floor in an open shirt. Nice tree in the background

'Take Five Blues' (jazzy/classical mashups, choreographed by Stina Quagebeur), essentially incorporated the dancers' personalties into the steps (as Stina obviously knows the dancers well), and was great fun. Enjoyable, but not very memorable on first viewing, perhaps I'll get more of it next time.

'Echoes' (Russell Maliphant). As with all Maliphant, the lighting is the extra dancer - often more important than the dancers, to my mind. The bits I could make out were very good - and I expect the rest was too, I just couldn't see it through the lighting effects.

'Jolly Folly' (Arielle Smith) had Latin infused renditions of popular classical pieces, the dancers in 'Charlie Chaplin-esque' costumes and was a complete blast. From cheeky sways of the hips, to silent era movie villains stomping around, to pugilism even, I think it must have brought a smile to everyone's face. Francesca Velicu really stood out (yet again) for me.

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It's marvellous to be reading actual reviews of actual live performances again - even though I wasn't there: it feels like a big shift -  thank you both!

 

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45 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

8 reviews in today's Links!!  Can't think when we last had a morning like that -well done, Janet.

 

I imagine the same for the RB tomorrow, as a sense of 'normality' begins to return 🙂

 

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58 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

8 reviews in today's Links!!  Can't think when we last had a morning like that -well done, Janet.

 

Yet actually there have been very few days when you've found no links at all, haven't there?  Possibly surprising given the pandemic - or perhaps people decided to change their focus.  Well done, both of you.

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I was there last night with No 2 daughter and we both, along with the rest of the socially-distanced but highly appreciative audience, absolutely loved ENB's Reunion!

 

The order was, I think, slightly different from the opening night. It was a wise move as Yuri Possokhov's Senseless Kindness, quietly polished but a little meh, was shunted to mid-programme between Sidi Larki Cherkaoui's moving Laid in Earth and the mesmeric artistry of Russell Maliphant's Echoes, all of which were book-ended by sheer joy, starting with the quirky, slightly anarchic high of Stina Quagebeur's Take Five Blues to the final, barnstorming Jolly Folly of Arielle Smith, a piece of feelgood magic that effortlessly brought the house down.

 

What is it about ENB's new works that makes them so enjoyable? Clever commissioning by the highly astute Ms Rojo, whose artistic judgement can rarely be faulted. Recognition of the effect of the right music, costume and lighting in enhancing movement and choreography and creating a mood. And an acknowledgement that humour has a very real place in the artistic landscape.

 

Sorry, zxDaveM, that the Purcell/electronica mix in Laid in Earth wasn't your sort of music. I really enjoyed it, but then baroque and electronic music do sit very happily together for me. I also, sadly, found the Possokhov - which, admittedly, had moments of true beauty - was the one piece that overstayed its welcome.

 

So, welcome back ENB. I can't wait for Solstice in the summer and the the much-delayed Creature (possibly more postponed than the latest James Bond) in September.

 

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1 hour ago, Scheherezade said:

Sorry, zxDaveM, that the Purcell/electronica mix in Laid in Earth wasn't your sort of music. I really enjoyed it, but then baroque and electronic music do sit very happily together for me.

 

 

Not a problem - be a very dull world if we all felt the same, now wouldn't it! 🙂

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Just in from a double dose today.

Loved it - all of it - whereas I didn’t warm to a couple of pieces when the films were streamed. It just goes to confirm that ‘virtual’ ballet is a very different kind of experience (although some of the pieces had since been further developed for the stage).

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I was also there tonight - how wonderful to be back, and you could see how much it meant to the dancers, too. (Long time reader / lurker, I guess I better start posting sometime?) 

 

I did enjoy the Purcell / Electronica mix in Laid In Earth, found the choreography very moving and all four dancers (Erina Takahashi, Precious Adams, Jeffrey Cirio, James Streeter) were fabulous. Thought this one had a lovely balance of everything - even the "writhing on the floor" part which I'm not usually a fan of was beautifully done. My favourite of the night.

 

Echoes started slow but really grew on me as the sounds, light and dancing got more intense, found it a real experience. Jolly Folly was just sheer fun with lots of quirky little surprises, what a great way to end the evening.

 

Did anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable in a fairly packed theatre after lockdown though? Compared to some very positive experiences at the ROH in October and December, the denser SW seating plan and the surprising number of maskless people in my immediate vicinity (I'm guessing to sip their bar drinks, which is of course perfectly legal now, I just wasn't expecting it) did make me wonder about the risks. No good answers, are there - personal unease and wanting the ENB and SW to have lovely sold out runs are rather opposing feelings. Can't wait for Solstice in June though.

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Virtual ballet is something of a no go area for me, Capybara. There are, of course, pieces I have watched during the last 12 months and some I have even enjoyed, but never with the same type or degree of enjoyment as a live performance and seldom with that thrill of anticipation that comes as the curtain goes up or the sheer exhilaration when the anticipation is fully realised. 

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Hello Sophie_B. Or, to paraphrase the late, lamented David Frost, "hello, good morning and welcome".

 

And I do so agree with your reaction to Laid in Earth. Like you, I generally can't stand any writhing around on the floor, which usually comes across to me as contrived, unnecessary and more than a little awkward, but here, somehow, it seemed perfectly natural and completely appropriate.

 

My daughter, who suffers from vertigo, did find that the projections in Echoes had the effect of making her feel a bit sick but for all of that she still loved it.

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It was an absolute privilege to attend the opening night of English National Ballet’s “Reunion” programme on Monday 17 May at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.  The rest of the audience felt the same way, breaking into spontaneous and prolonged applause as soon as the stage manager welcomed us to ENB’s performance.  Speaking to some of the dancers afterwards, they said how much this reaction had meant to them and what a lift it had given them, especially as most of them had not danced in front of an audience since the 70th anniversary galas in January 2020!  There followed some speeches, including a filmed speech by Tamara Rojo, who is to be congratulated not only for the way ENB took the initiative in responding to the pandemic with free streamings and whole programmes of new works (including for the Emerging Dancer Award) but also for grabbing the chance to get her company back onstage the day that theatres reopened.  The programme began on a gentle note with Yuri Possokhov’s “Senseless Kindness”.  Performed by the original cast of Isaac Hernandez, Alison McWhinney, Francesco Gabriele Frola and Emma Hawes, this hauntingly beautiful piece was accompanied by, joy of joys, live music!  His Piano Trio No.1 is Shostakovitch at his most tender and romantic, and it was elegantly played by Julia Richter (piano), Matthew Scrivener (violin) and Gary Stevens (cello).  As with the film, I was struck by how musical Possokhov’s choreography is and how sensitively the dancers responded to it.  An improvement on the film was the chance to see the lovely dancing of Emma Hawes, who had spent much of the film in the background. 

 

I thought that the film of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “Laid in Earth” was extraordinary but did not showcase the talents of the dancers (Erina Takahashi, Jeffrey Cirio, Precious Adams and James Streeter).  However, shorn of all the special effects and with only a solitary ‘dead’ tree as a backdrop, the choreography was much clearer in this live performance and there seemed to be a much more of it!  The flowing coats of Cirio and Streeter appeared to get in the way of the choreography at times but Takahashi and Adams, in black and red respectively, looked gorgeously sensuous.  I am not convinced by the juxtaposition of Purcell’s most famous aria, sung and played live, and an electronic soundscape but that seems to be the fashion with contemporary choreographers.

 

I was absolutely delighted that my favourite piece of the digital season, “Take Five Blues” was just as exhilarating and life-affirming when danced live. The camera had moved amongst the dancers for the film, creating an almost dizzying effect with the many bursts of energy, but seeing the piece ‘from the front’ allowed us to appreciate the contribution of all of the dancers all of the time. The cast of Aitor Arrieta, Matthew Astley, Fernando Carratala Coloma, Henry Dowden, Shiori Kase, Katja Khaniukova, Rentaro Nakaaki and Angela Wood lit up the theatre with their energy and bravura dancing, and I am so pleased that choreographer Stina Quagebeur has been nominated for a National Dance Award for it.  If a piece truly expressed the dancers’ joy at being back onstage, this was it!

 

The extended opening pas de deux of Russell Maliphant’s “Echoes” had been filmed in close-up with a wonderful, tender intimacy created by Fernanda Oliveira and Fabian Reimair.  Although this was not so visible from the middle of the stalls in this live performance, it was still mesmerising in its beauty.  There was the same gorgeous fluidity of movement, echoed by the rest of the cast of Giorgio Garrett, Anjuli Hudson, Isabelle Brouwers, Eileen Evrard and Junor Souza, the latter bringing the piece to a close as he seemed to dissolve in front of our eyes with the wonderful lighting effects that are the hallmark of this hypnotic piece.

 

The evening ended with Arielle Smith’s “Jolly Folly” to a wonderfully percussive score, sadly recorded and not played live but it would probably not be possible to accommodate in the pit the orchestral forces needed with the present restrictions.  When I watched the film of this, I thought it was a fun piece but relied heavily on special effects.  Stripped of all these (and seen in colour), it was a riotous romp for its cast, both males and females dressed in Charlie Chaplin-style penguin suits, bringing the evening to a rousing finale.  Although we were treated to some pyrotechnics by Miguel Angel Maidana, Daniel McCormick, Ken Saruhashi, Erik Woolhouse and Rhys Antoni Yeomans, I did feel the ladies (Georgia Bould, Julia Conway and Francesca Velicu) were under-used in terms of dancing but they looked like they were thoroughly enjoying their antics, especially the mock boxing match.  However, this is a very small niggle in an evening which did much to dispel the gloom of the last fourteen months.

 

I returned for the matinée on Wednesday 19 May, to see mainly new cast members in all the works.  The running order had been altered so that “Take Five Blues” opened the programme, and the dancers were treated to a round of applause and cheering as soon as the curtain rose on them.  Claire Barrett, Emily Suzuki and Senri Kou brought their own personalities and style of dancing to the piece and it was wonderful to welcome Kou back to the stage after an extended absence caused by the pandemic hitting as she returned from maternity leave.  Her sparkle is undiminished, as are her fouettés! Henry Dowden and Claire Barrett performed the dynamic pas de deux, and it was good to see Victor Prigent, William Simmons and newcomers Matei Hadrian Holeleu and Eric Snyder dancing up a storm.

 

Precious Adams repeated her role in “Laid in Earth” and was beautifully matched with Francesca Velicu, making her debut as a lithesome and delicate lady in black.  Joseph Caley and Noam Durand were in full command of the stage with their sinuous movements.

 

“Senseless Kindness” marked the debut of new principal Natascha Mair in a live performance with ENB but, for me, she was overshadowed by the long-limbed, elegant dancing of corps de ballet member Rebecca Blenkinsop as the other woman.  She caught my eye as soon as she started dancing and mesmerised me for the rest of the ballet.  Aitor Arrieta and Skyler Martin provided sympathetic and tender partnering throughout.

 

Anjuli Hudson and Giorgio Garrett made a sensational debut in the central pas de deux of “Echoes”, bringing out all its sensuality and fluidity in their very stylish dancing.  They were well supported by Amber Hunt, Chloe Keneally, Sarah Kundi and Van Le Ngoc, although he did not achieve quite the ravishing effect that Souza did in the ballet’s final moments.

 

“Jolly Folly” again proved to be a huge hit with the audience.  Although it was not quite a completely new cast, it was interesting to see Alice Bellini take on Erik Woolhouse’s role.  Carolyne Galvao was meant to take on the role created by Yeomans but she was off so we were treated to his cheeky performance again. 

 

I am looking forward immensely to being entertained at further performances this coming week and I would urge anyone who has not booked tickets yet to do so as this is a wonderfully uplifting programme to begin our journey back to normality.

 

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Thanks for that wonderfully evocative review Irmgard.  I wish I could get down to London to see this programme (or any other at the moment!  Still NB at The Lowry next week - can't wait!).

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