Le Corsaire, based on the 1814 poem of Lord Byron, is transformed by ENB and performed for the first time in its entirety by a British ballet company presenting a thrilling tale of infatuation and treachery. The story deals with various serious themes including drugs, abduction, sexual slavery, violence and death- a far cry from ENB’s festive family fun with the Nutcracker. Instead, the often brutal issues of Le Corsaire are attacked by the company with fearless gusto and energy. I must confess I am a massive Yonah Acosta fan, which may have something to do with my overall enjoyment of this show, but his exquisite skill as a performer can not be overlooked. When he flies across that stage, he really flies leaving audience members audibly gasping and marvelling at the sheer height of his split leaps.
The plot itself is crazy and at times difficult to keep up with. I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no clue as to what was going on when a gaggle of children bounded on to the stage, wearing fairy wings and carrying ornate flower jump rope-like objects. Luckily, I assumed right and it was in fact the symbol of the effect that narcotics had on the Pasha in his palace late at night. Sorry his ‘deep dreamlike sleep’, his turban sitting on his head slightly askew and what I can only assume was an opium infused shisha pipe positioned at his elbow.
As the men of the company enjoy playing pirates and slicing their swords across the set, it is comical to see their macho showcase of fighting skill coupled with some oxymoronic shoulder shimmying. Toned bare tummies of the female dancers are shown off throughout the piece providing erotic undulations and making me wish I hadn’t indulged in such a massive slab of cake at lunch!
An element I found particularly appealing with this interpretation was the feistiness of Medora. We are presented with a woman who shows evidence of subverting the archetypal ‘damsel in distress’ notion and asserts physical violence over Birbanto by stabbing him. The contrast of her wearing a dainty, feminine, Swarovski embellished nightgown and then the bloodshed Birbanto suffers at the hands of her was an exciting and rare addition to a classical ballet performance.
Quoting a line from popular film Anchorman, ‘Well that escalated quickly…’ is a perfect summation to this fantastic show. If you want to be kept on the edge of your seat and to experience a brilliant sense of befuddlement throughout, this is the show to see. Do it. Do it now.
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Tags: ballet, English National Ballet, Le Corsaire
I swear the stage smelt festive. You know how the lightest fragrance can evoke a memory of a loved one, an event, time or place? Well for me, ENB successfully bottled Christmas and then proceeded to let the precious elixir spill out on to the stage, filling the nostrils of the audience and creating a hazy Christmas coma.
As the ice-skaters began to glide across the stage with effortless poise and precision, I felt an immense sense of kinaesthetic empathy. My legs longing to share the sensation of sliding across an ice rink in a heady mixture of adrenalin and freedom- feelings, which I knew too well from learning to ice skate in Canada as an infant. I was reminded also of the skating scene in the Muppets Christmas Carol as the dancers began to playfully push each other, creating an element of slapstick.
Childhood memories continued to seep through to my conscious like the glitter that fell from the stage’s sky, creating snowflakes and sleepy dust that lulled the audience into a reverie. Tchaikovsky’s famous score provided a magical backdrop to the gorgeous pointe work of Tamara Rojo, whose delicate movements entranced throughout. A welcome addition to her sequences came in the form of a children’s choir who weaved harmonies around her pirouettes, whilst adding an extra layer of Christmas tradition to the whole piece.
If you are planning on seeing any performance this festive season, this is the one to see if you want a jaw-dropping showcase of skill, surprise and jovial delight.
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December would not be complete without experiencing some version of the Nutcracker. This classical ballet is a staple of most dance companies’ repertoire and English National Ballet (ENB) is no exception. ENB is one of the leading ballet companies in the UK and also the world. They have revamped their look and brought sexy back to the ballet.
The December 13, 2013 performance of Nutcracker by ENB at the London Coliseum had all the usual suspects; Clara, Drosselmeyer, Nutcracker and the Prince. Naturally, Tamara Rojo’s performance of Clara, in particular her superb dancing in the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux, was breathtaking! She effortlessly captured the innocence of the young Clara together with the ephemeral quality of a fairy! Another noteworthy aspect of the night was the bizarre Arabian scene of Act II which came very close to being inappropriate. Typically this scene, just like the Chinese, Russian and Spanish scenes, is supposed to be a dance vignette influenced by cultural elements and has no direct input to the storyline. The artistic decision to include the Sultan character in the Arabian scene was fresh, however the decision to depict him as an evil slave owner who kept Clara’s cousin hostage was a careless one. I failed to see what this added to the storyline and how it enhanced the magic of this “Christmas ballet for all the family”. Does this demonization of the Arabian reflect a cultural norm of today’s western society?
Although the cultural reference was inconsiderate, choreographically I appreciated the set-up of the group piece in the Arabian scene. Having four female dancers and one male dancer, the Sultan, was refreshing compared with the more traditional interpretations of this scene. The focus was removed from the female body and placed on the male one. The choreography was innovative and beautifully executed. The dancers moved in and out of the floor which is rare to see in a ballet. The four women belly danced around the Sultan and made him the focus, shimming and rolling shoulders right and left. Their torsos swayed and figure eights were outlined with their hips, contrasting those movements which changed levels. The most striking moment within the group piece was the duet between the Sultan (Arionel Vargas) and the Slave (Barry Drummond). The two men intertwined their arms while linking different body parts. The Sultan forcefully manipulated the slave and his dancing displayed his anger with conviction.
ENB is excitingly moving forward in many ways with their evocative costuming, sets and choreography, but perhaps they missed the mark with this one scene. Some ballets (such as Raymonda or Le Corsaire) have the “Oriental villains” as a pillar of their original story lines, however this is certainly not the case with Nutcracker, so I question the use of this insensitive cliché in this day and age.
By Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros
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English National Ballet’s Swan Lake in-the-round, choreographed by Derek Deane, is ballet on a grand scale, a public spectacle charged with drama and excitement.
The Sunday matinee had a unique buzz about it, thanks to the dozens of little girls, all aspiring swans, lost in the dream of ballet as they tried out their steps in the intervals. It was a packed, bustling audience, suddenly hushed by Gavin Sutherland’s arrival at the podium to start Tchaikovsky’s enchanting music.
The set was minimal, due to the nature of the space, but the lighting added detail and atmosphere. Peter Farmer’s designs were beautiful, soft grey-greens and muted golds but, sitting high up in the balcony, I wished for stronger colours and bolder contrasts.
Act One was carnival time with spirited national dances, tumblers and acrobats adding to the glorious spectacle. The Pas de Trois, now the Pas de Douze, was beautifully and evenly danced. It was exciting to see the dancers’ extended entrances and exits from various points in the vast arena.
The Act Two duet (danced by Fernanda Oliveira and Dmitiri Gruzdyev) created a spellbinding mood to the aching beauty of the cello and violin. The pair was wonderfully matched.
Later, the sight of the sixty shimmering swans appearing through the dry ice was heart-stopping. The gentle throbbing of sixty pairs of pointe shoes, like one enormous heartbeat, was truly emotional! The synchronisation and patterning looked exquisite from above.
The Royal Albert Hall lacks the intimacy required to fully draw the audience into the tender tragedy of Swan Lake but it certainly provides an arena for the sheer exhilaration and theatricality of the ballet.
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Tags: Dance is the Word, Derek Deane, Dmitiri Gruzdyev, English National Ballet, Fernanda Oliveira, Gavin Sutherland, Swan Lake, The Royal Albert Hall
English National Ballet’s Tribute to Rudolph Nureyev was a triumphant revival of three diverse and glorious works in which Nureyev once memorably starred.
After an introductory film which provided a context for the chosen programme, Stravinsky’s music brought to life the bustling goose-fair setting of Petrushka. Members of the company, costumed in bright primary colours, energised the stage with their lively national dances and flirtatious encounters. Anton Lukovkin, in the role of Puppet, conveyed pathos and yearning in every little movement. Crystal Costa, debuting in the role of Ballerina, gave us a crisp, assured and flirtatious performance and Yonah Acosta was truly menacing and compelling as the Moor.
The soloists’ depth of technical and artistic talent was brilliantly exhibited in Raymonda Act III. I particularly loved Lauretta Summerscales’ lyrical and poetic performance in Variation Three. Rojo’s Variation Six was a study in control of both her art and her audience; she teased us with balances and slow, controlled movements. Yonah Acosta plunged into leaps and turns with superb athleticism and his vivacious physicality served as a wonderful foil to Rojo’s serenity and poise.
The highlight of the evening was Song of a Wayfarer, originally choreographed by Béjart for Nureyev to music by Gustav Mahler. Danced by Francisco Bosch and Fabian Reimair and sung by Nicholas Lester, it was a stunningly emotional and democratic experience, a spine-tingling evocation of the restless, rootless life of the dancer. Two figures, one dressed in blue-grey, the other in rust, became a gripping metaphor for the artist’s struggle to put down roots while meeting the uncompromising demands of his art. It was a truly riveting performance.
Congratulations and thanks to the English National Ballet for this truly fitting tribute to Rudolph Nureyev.
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Tags: Anton Lukovkin, ballets russes, Crystal Costa, Dance is the Word, English National Ballet, Fabian Reimair, Francisco Bosch, Lauretta Summerscales, London Coliseum, Petrushka, Raymonda, Rudolf Nureyev, Songs of a Wayfarer, Stravinsky, Tamara Rojo, Yonah Acosta
There is no doubt about it. The English National Ballet is exceptionally good at developing stage personalities. It could bring the company unprecedented success in the digital age.
Many leading ballet companies train their dancers in such a homogenous performance style that individual personalities can get lost in the crowd. The ENB is emerging as a strong exception to this. Topping the triple bill at Ecstasy and Death is Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, a dance which reveals a company bursting with performers who really know how to project their personalities on stage.
Petite Mort is a witty pageant about the bold, beautiful and crazy things that men and women do to show off their physical and sexual prowess. The traditional dance hierarchy is dispensed with; principals, artists and general company members perform in unison, as a chorus. The men are bare-chested, the women move freely on demi-pointe in flesh-coloured leotards and the set is minimal. This is a ‘no frills’ ballet which strips things down to basics but, remarkably, each dancer dazzles as a highly distinctive and characterful individual. Cheeky chaps and sultry provocateurs emerge, sufferers and dreamers, personalities so magnetic and appealing that I feel like I’m attending a fantasy dinner-party or playing the fantasy football league.
During the interval people seem to be searching their printed programmes or hopping online, keen for information on these arresting individuals. I track down some of the dancers on Twitter and watch a few of the ENB’s YouTube interviews. In this boom-time of social media and mobile technology, many of us expect instant access to digital content about the personalities we see on stage: multimedia features; Q&As; ‘behind the scenes’ articles. Personality sells and the performers with the ‘biggest’ personalities can attract the biggest online audiences, growing the broadest base of returning customers.
The vivid personalities being hothoused at the ENB give it some serious marketing power and a true competitive edge over rival dance companies.
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Tags: ballet, dance, Dance is the Word, Ecstasy and Death, English National, Jiri Kylian, Petite Mort
Since becoming artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo, ex royal ballet superstar, has proved that, not only is she an accomplished, refined – Prima – ballerina, she is also a visionary director. Eager, driven, and very much aware that, in order for ballet to survive, it needs to once again, inspire.
“Your art is the one thing in your life that will never betray you “
I strongly believe that her appointment at Markova house has breathed new life into the Company. Sometimes, it takes that special person to come along…
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Tags: Dance is the Word, English National Ballet, London Coliseum, London Festival Ballet, performance, Petrushka, Raymonda, Rudolf Nureyev, Song of a Wayfarer, Tamara Rojo