English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells – Reunion – Senseless Kindness; Laid in Earth; Take Five Blues; Echoes; Jolly Folly

Senseless Kindness
Dancers – Emma Hawes, Alison McWhinney, Francesco Gabriele Frola, Isaac Hernández

Matthew Scrivener (violin), Garry Stevens (cello), Julia Richter (piano)

Yuri Possokhov – Choreography
Dmitri Shostakovich – Music [Piano Trio No.1 in C minor, Op.8]
Federica Romano – Costume design
David Richardson – Lighting design

Laid in Earth
Dancers – Precious Adams, Erina Takahashi, Jeffrey Cirio, James Streeter

Catherine Backhouse (mezzo-soprano)
Matthew Scrivener (violin), Garry Stevens (cello), Julia Richter (piano)

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – Choreography
Jason Kittelberger – Assistant Choreographer
Henry Purcell – Music [Dido and Aeneas – Dido’s Lament]
Olga Wojciechowska – Electronic Music
Dries Van Noten – Costume Design
David Richardson – Lighting Design

Take Five Blues
Dancers – Shiori Kase, Katja Khaniukova, Angella Wood, Aitor Arrieta, Matthew Astley, Fernando Carratalá Coloma, Henry Dowden, Rentaro Nakasaki

Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Stina Quagebeur – Choreography

Paul Desmond & Nigel Kennedy – Music [Take Five]
Nigel Kennedy – Music [Inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D minor, BWV 1043 – Vivace]
Stina Quagebeur – Costume design
David Richardson – Lighting design

Dancers – Isabelle Brouwers, Eireen Evrard, Anjuli Hudson, Fernanda Oliveira, Giorgio Garrett, Fabian Reimair, Junor Souza

Russell Maliphant – Choreography
Dana Fouras – Sound design
Panagiotis Tomaras – Video & Lighting design
Stevie Stewart – Costume design

Jolly Folly
Dancers – Georgia Bould, Julia Conway, Francesca Velicu, Joseph Caley, Daniel McCormick, Ken Saruhashi, Erik Woolhouse, Rhys Antoni Yeomans

Cuba Percussion
Klazz Brothers

Arielle Smith – Choreography
Johan Strauss II – Inspiration for Music [Cuban Danube]
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Inspiration for Music [Cuban Sugar]
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Inspiration for Music [Kubanischer Marsch]
Arielle Smith – Costume design
David Richardson – Lighting design

4 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 17 May, 2021
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

It is hard to imagine a more feel-good evening at the ballet – English National Ballet’s return to stage performance on the very first day of social easing and the first time Sadler’s Wells Theatre has opened its doors to the public since 2020.  To celebrate the reunion of artists and audience, director Tamara Rojo opted to bring five ballets which first saw light on-line, five commissioned works from a variety of choreographers to five very different pieces of music.  If it all felt a little end-of-term-like with dancers clearly overjoyed to be performing and audience members equally excited to be watching, that was all to the good, even if the quality of the choreography on show was variable.  Nevertheless, performed without an interval, the five works certainly demonstrated the versatility of the company at present.

Of least import, the first offering, a quartet by Yuri Possokhov to a trio by Shostakovich, inspired by Vasily Grossman’s wartime Russian epic Life and Fate, but singularly failing to live up to the weight of either music or text.  Possokhov’s first UK commissioned work Senseless Kindness is lightweight, given some indication of time period only by its 1940s-inspired costuming (a flat cap, braces and utility dresses).  The movement palette is resolutely neo-classical but, ultimately, inexpressive; two man and two women come together in varying combinations, but it is the lighting plan which mirrors best the shifting moods of the composer’s music rather more than the choreography, which is inoffensively predictable.  As a reaction to Grossman’s novel and Shostakovich’s music, it falls well short while, admittedly, showcasing the dancers’ physical, if not necessarily interpretative, abilities.

Two upbeat works were more satisfying, even if neither fully hits the mark in terms of inventiveness and originality.  Stina Quagebeur’s is a more than promising choreographic talent; a dancer and now dance-maker nurtured by ENB, she has a deep understanding of what works for the performer and a developing knowledge of what satisfies an audience.  Take Five Blues Is, above all, a joyous three-art dance for a group of lively company artists and Quagebeur is most successful at evoking their sense of camaraderie, mutual support and underlying rivalry.  Her choreography does not, however, quite match the grooviness of her musical choice, and there are moments when one would wish her to have taken more risks.  The dancers are uniformly excellent with Fernando Carratalá Coloma pipping Aitor Arrieta in the personality stakes – his natural ebullience shines out to the audience and thereby invests his movements with both purpose and texture.

Jolly Folly is both quirky and fun, a resolutely light-hearted riff on silent films and their stars, Charlie Chaplin and his ilk.  Choreographer Arielle Smith has chosen the zaniest Cuban remixes of three familiar classical pieces (Mozart’s Rondo alla turca, from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube) and matches them with manic caperings, funny walks and preposterous posing in what is clearly intended to put a smile on the face.  In that it succeeds without ever achieving the laugh-out-loud moments of the very finest comic ballets – think Jerome Robbins’s The Concert.  But Smith a young dance-maker and she already shows considerable mastery of her craft and the ability to sustain atmosphere, despite the nagging suspicion that its three sections are probably one too many.  The dancers could not have been more enthusiastic in their prat-falls and mugging, with the diminutive Francesca Velicu (a searing Chosen Maiden in The Rite of Spring) simply glorious in her outsized stampings and posturings.  Daniel McCormick and Ken Saruhashi showed unexpected comic talent and came close to stealing the show.

It is good to report enjoying a piece by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui whose recent Medusa at Covent Garden ranks one of the prize turkeys of your critic’s dance-going experience.  Aided by Jason Kittelberger as Assistant Choreographer (what exactly does that mean, one wonders…), Cherkaoui has returned to a vaguely mythological atmosphere in Laid in Earth, originally a duet now expanded to four dancers and seemingly evoking the temporal and the spiritual.  With a minimal set of a desiccated tree trunk, reminiscent of some Martha Graham’s ballets, this work is spare and focussed, using circles of movement and curves of limbs to create a welcome flowing quality.  At its best, it is fascinating, intriguing, not least when Precious Adams in red and Erina Takahashi in black dance alongside each other.  Cherkaoui/Kittelberger achieve transitions expertly and the subsequent duet of Takahashi and her husband James Streeter links beautifully with the preceding section while establishing meaning of its own.  Jeffrey Cirio was the rubber-torsoed fourth member of the cast.  The juxtaposition of ‘Dido’s Lament’ and electronic sound-scaping was felicitous.

Best of all, Russell Maliphant’s Echoes, a mesmeric work for seven dancers led by Fernanda Oliveira and Fabian Reimair.  All clad in long-sleeved white tops and wide, grey harem pants, the dancers execute Maliphant’s weighty, grounded movements with requisite intensity.  Dana Fouras’s sound design makes a strong contribution to the atmosphere of Echoes while Panagiotis Tomaras’s virtuoso lighting design is both evocative and powerful.  Maliphant is perhaps the choreographer who best understands the power of light, a talent he has shown over a long and successful career of dance-making.  Echoes is in no way lesser than those works which have come before.

As an evening of dance viewed dispassionately, Reunion is far from perfect, but then the commission of five new works is never assured of consistency, let alone uniform success.  But the circumstances of its presentation at Sadler’s Wells in a collective sigh of relief from stage, pit and auditorium, make it a real triumph.  It is a triumph for company director Tamara Rojo, a triumph for the dancers and musicians of English National Ballet and a triumph for us all as we emerge blinking into the light after lockdown.

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