Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

English National Ballet

Bausch, Forsythe, Van Manen


23 March – 1 April 2017



Pina Bausch: The Rite of Spring

William Forsythe: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated

Hans Van Manen: Adagio Hammerklavier

The triple bill is a triumph for the English National Ballet, for Tamara Rojo, and of course for Sadler’s Wells.  It is for evenings such as this that one sits through all the others.

How brave of the ENB to take on, in one evening, three iconic pieces, contemporary classics that everybody knows, and what’s more, to invite all the choreographers and originating dancers to sit in the audience.  The ENB has succeeded spectacularly in each case.

Of the three pieces, perhaps Van Manen’s Adagio of 1973 most takes one’s breath away.  There is perfect realisation of his choreography’s balance of delicacy, power, heart-stopping tension and easeful pacing – all against the backdrop of beautifully conceived and lit sets.  What’s more, there is the chance to witness the ENB’s artistic director and lead principal Tamara Rojo’s spectacular performance.  For her breadth of achievements, an honorific title is long overdue.

Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring has been known since its first night in 1975 as the most exciting, terrifying, rawly sexual, daring dance-work in the contemporary repertoire.  The ENB’s take on it is exactly that, with Gavin Sutherland’s conducting the ENB orchestra’s Stravinsky, a trip in itself.

William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, first performed in 1987, began the evening.  It is, by a hair’s breadth, slightly less satisfying than the other two pieces.   Partly this has to do with the lighting, too dark for the space.  One has to peer to see any detail in the dancers’ movements and there is no metallic gleam coming off the famously electric-blue-green leotards.  Thom Willem’s searing, industrial sounding electronic score, composed in tandem with the choreography, should reflect the burnished bodies.  As for the movement generally, there may have been a deliberate decision to forego sharp in favour of fast.  There is little attempt to recreate Forsythe’s original staccato gestures that read like a speeded up film with the link between two positions edited out.  Here there is not so much edgy, sultry attitude as fast flow with balletic arms and hands between positions.  Perhaps it is an attempt to own the piece in a new way.

If you can still get a ticket, do not miss this triple bill.

Review by Primrose MacFay

23 March 2017