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English National Ballet

By Barbara Newman

English National Ballet
London Coliseum
London, United Kingdom
Reviewed by Barbara Newman

 

Suite en Blanc. Photo by Annabel Moeller. Courtesy ENB.

 

Tough times demand tough decisions. Now that the Arts Council of Great Britain has announced funding cuts of 29.6 percent over the next four years, dance companies here have begun to tighten their belts and plan ahead.

 

If you blinked, you missed it, but English National Ballet just slipped five performances of a mixed bill into a season dominated by lavish narrative ballets. Stripping away the swan feathers and glitter that viewers find so reassuring, the program returned dancers and public alike to the pleasures of choreography unencumbered by drama or elaborate costumes. Under the canny title “Black & White” and principally clothed in those colors, the four ballets may point to a future in which dancing again reasserts its intrinsic value.

 

The company’s director, Wayne Eagling, created Men Y Men as a curtain-raiser for Giselle, to balance its fragility with a muscular slab of athleticism and to occupy the company’s men. He made Resolution after meeting some gravely ill children, whose suffering, composure, and courage his tender ballet acknowledges. Taking their emotional tone from Rachmaninoff and Mahler’s melancholy Rückert Lieder respectively, both striking pieces require intricate partnering and sensitive musicality.

 

Van Le Ngoc’s brand new Vue de l’autre pushes athleticism into the acrobatic distortions of Cirque de Soleil while swathing it in sentimental yearning and chiffon scarves. Like Ludovico Einaudi’s  tuneless score, a meandering loop of arpeggios better suited to a cocktail bar piano, the choreography wafts the dancers through innumerable lifts and embraces without ever resolving their romantic torment. If Le Ngoc, who dances with ENB, intends to make another ballet, he would do well to think about structure, concision and choreographic focus before he begins it.

 

Memory has become so short that only balletomanes and historians now recognize the name Serge Lifar. Yet he created the title roles in both Apollo and The Prodigal Son, and devoted his life after Diaghilev’s death to the Paris Opéra Ballet, which he served as director, teacher, choreographer and leading dancer until 1958. Revived especially for this program, his Suite en Blanc (1943) opens with a tableau so formal and elegant that it provoked a spontaneous burst of applause. That crystalline image then dissolves into a series of virtuso divertissements in which the dancers displayed their brilliant, precise technique and the splendor of the classical vocabulary with equal pride.


The sparkling cascade of invention in the solos, pas de deux, trios, and dazzling pas de cinq recalls Balanchine’s more familiar Symphony in C or Harald Lander’s Etudes. But an aura of Gallic panache permeates Suite en Blanc, and the finest interpreters in the first of these performances—Shiori Kase in the Serenade solo and Erina Takahashi in the pas de deux and Flute solo—radiated an air of chic allure.  Perhaps the rediscovery of long-buried treasures like this one, which ENB last danced in 1976, will provide the silver lining to the dark days ahead.

 

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