Last Updated on May 17, 2021
Back on Stage – Reunion at Sadler’s Wells.
The expectant audience, all still carefully socially distanced and all masked, may not have anticipated a live introduction from Alistair Spalding, the CEO of Sadler’s Wells and from Patrick Harrison of English National Ballet, both thanking the Arts Council culture recovery fund first for keeping the arts alive, then thanking the dancers and other colleagues for their dedication – and finally thanking the audience for staying loyal. But, as a way to open a very special evening, it worked. As did Tamara Rojo on film introducing the programme, almost tearful at the prospect. It is the first night of what we all hope will be a permanent re-opening of theatres in England. The first dances live on stage. And, like teenagers at their first-ever party, we are all excited.
How to choose what to perform on such a special evening? English National Ballet picked five short ballets, each very different and each with its own cast. No dancer appeared in more than one ballet and each ballet set a different tone. The works, by renowned choreographers and rising talents, were originally created and released as films as part of ENB’s critically acclaimed Digital Season in late 2020. Now, these original pieces were to be performed live on stage for the first time at Sadler’s Wells. A fitting reunion indeed.
Starting perhaps with the most classical production, Senseless Kindness was choreographed by ex Bolshoi Ballet dancer and choreographer Yuri Possokhov who poignantly introduced his work by telling us that he had never dared work with the music of Shostakovitch before. The Piano Trio No. 1 op. 8 was performed live and Senseless Kindness, based on Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, captured the emotions of a Russian family caught in the Second World War, A beautiful quartet of dancers performing a poignant and evocative 15-minute ballet.
The next ballet, Laid in Earth, used Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas as the central musical theme, with contrasting electronic music. A ballet of shadows and shadowing, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has reimagined the work as a “torn apart” quartet where the earth and underworld intertwine and overlap.
The famous aria was beautifully performed from the orchestra pit by mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse, while the new electronic music from Olga Wojciechowska created a chilling atmosphere to start and end the work.
The quartet of Precious Adams and Erina Takahashi, Jeffrey Cirio and James Streeter were uniformly poised and elegant, with evocative dancing from the two ladies.
The next work, Take Five Blues, moved the pace up a notch or five. I loved the jazz dancing and structured work of the eight dancers on stage. Choreographer Stina Quagebeur explained in the introduction that there was no story but that as she is both a dancer at ENB and a choreographer, she knows the strengths of each of her dancers intimately. That understanding of what made each dancer tick shone through. The music, for me, had a personal impact. Take Five, written by Paul Desmond and performed by Nigel Kennedy and Vivace – Inspired By Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins and Orchestra, written and performed by Nigel Kennedy. A memory of childhood for me was meeting Nigel Kennedy and Yehudi Menuhin in the small town where I grew up. I was, at the time, a keen violinist and with some of my friends, we’d heard that the wunderkind, Nigel Kennedy (at the time about 15 years old) would be performing the Bach Double with Menuhin himself that evening. We snuck into the back of the church where they were rehearsing and listened in awe. That afternoon has a special place in my memory, which the ballet has only served to enhance.
Of the performances this evening, Echoes with choreography by Russell Maliphant stood out. The work is a collaboration with video artist Panagiotis Tomaras and sound design by Dana Fouras. Yes, the result is mesmerising but I personally found it hard to follow or appreciate the dance other than part of a larger work of art. And, in an evening of celebrating English National Ballet, that seemed a little out of place.
Arielle Smith introducing her work said that she wanted to make the audience smile. Jolly Folly was an upbeat, comical ballet based on the days of black and white movies. The dancers, in Chaplinesque white shirts, braces and trousers, perform to music by the Klazz Brothers’ Latin-infused covers of Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Mozart. There are moments of sheer joy and others of pure slapstick. The perfect way to end a superb evening of dance.
I left with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, feeling immensely privileged to have shared this fabulous reunion. A moment in time not to forget.Reunion is part of the Spring/Summer 2021 season at Sadler’s Wells. It’s running until 30th May and tickets are still available online from the Sadler’s Wells Box Office
English National Ballet
Monday 17 – Sunday 30 May 2021
Tickets: £15 – £65