English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells
This mixed bill is a curious evening where the separate parts do not form an organic whole. George Balanchine’s 1947 Themes and Variations thrilled the audience who gasped when the curtain rose on tutued dancers. This is a fiendishly difficult work with its mix of classical and modern. It was finely danced by the company of 26. Balanchine’s geometrical patterning was observed with a detail that was satisfying to watch.
The centerpiece was Les Noces/Ascent of Days. Choreographer Andrea Miller states that ‘I have decided to take it from when Stravinsky’s other iconic piece, The Rite of Spring, ends: The Chosen One has just been sacrificed and we’ve just witnessed it.’
What I loved about this work was Phyllida Barlow’s disturbing set. My problem was the reworking of Stravinsky’s score to a new orchestration by Steven Stuckey with electronic music by Will Epstein. The ballet, as choreographed originally in 1923 by Bronislava Nijinska or now by Miller, is set in a pre-Christian landscape. Why did the choir sing in English, which has such a precise linguistic cultural coding? Perhaps a dramaturg would have been useful to the direction. Les Noces/Ascent of Days is overproduced. It left me longing for the simplicity of original. As for Miller’s choreography, it was difficult to see as the stage was underlit by Mark Henderson. All the drama onstage disappeared into a dark blur.
Finally, David Dawson’s Four Last Songs was an exhibition of the body – beautiful as the exquisite cast appeared to dance almost naked. Yumiko Takeshima’s costumes made them appear as young gods. The dancers’ skills were gorgeously accompanied by soprano Madeleine Pierard singing Richard Strauss’ lieder. Thankfully these were not sung in English.
If there was any unity to the different parts of this evening’s mixed bill it was an overall atmosphere of coldness and distance.
Julia Pascal © 2023.