English National Ballet – Ballets Russes [Programme 2]

Les Sylphides

Poet – Esteban Berlanga
Waltz – Adela Ramirez
Mazurka – Erina Takahashi
Prélude – Begoña Cao

Dancers of the Company

Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Alicia Markova – Staging
Frédéric Chopin orch. Roy Douglas – Music
Geoffrey Guy after Corot – Sets
Alexandre Benois – Costumes
David Mohr – Lighting

Le Spectre de la Rose

The Young Girl – Ksenia Ovsyanick
The Spirit of the Rose – Anton Lukovkin

Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Carl Maria von Weber – Music
Geoffrey Harman after Léon Bakst – Design

The Dying Swan

The Swan – Anaïs Chalendard

Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Camille Saint-Saëns – Music


Esteban Berlanga
Raphaël Coumes-Marquet

Kevin Darvas & Chris Swithinbank (pianos)

David Dawson – Choreography
Claude Debussy – Music
David Dawson – Design & Lighting
Yumiko Takeshima – Costume Design

The Rite of Spring

The Chosen One – Sara McIlroy

Dancers of the Company

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Igor Stravinsky – Music
Yolanda Sonnabend – Design

The Orchestra of English National Ballet
Gavin Sutherland

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 20 June, 2009
Venue: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

If proof were needed that a well-constructed mixed bill sells, this past week at Sadler’s Wells provided it, with sold-out shows night after night as the London dance-going public flocked to the theatre to see ENB celebrate the Ballets Russes. A queue for returns at a matinée is almost unheard of, so three cheers for the company and its canny director Wayne Eagling.

If anything, this was an even better mixed bill than ENB’s first programme, and together they made for a true celebration of the Ballets Russes’ centenary, so shamefully ignored or under-sold by other companies.

Les Sylphides was seen a few weeks back in The Royal Ballet’s rather anaemic production, performed carefully but with little engagement. ENB wins hands down on the version it performed – it was set on the company by their founder Dame Alicia Markova, who danced for Serge Diaghilev in his Ballets Russes, and indeed the choreographer Mikhail Fokine taught the ballet to her in the 1930s. Markova’s staging feels right, slight differences in emphasis or pose almost always shown to be better than what we saw at Covent Garden.

Impeccably drilled, the corps de ballet, a character in its own right in the context of this work, breathe as one in the choreography, and executed it with style. This matinée performance saw several role debuts, including Esteban Berlanga’s ardent poet and Begoña Cao’s astonishing Prélude girl. Both young artists are impressive already and are maturing into dancers of the first order; Cao came to the stage with an interpretation already thought through, and she wafted and skittered with lightness, style and élan. Quite superb. Berlanga is one of the company’s great hopes, and already he commands the stage with a fine technique and noble presence. Erina Takahashi was sprightly and stylish in the Mazurka, with a nice line in attitudes sur les pointes en tournant. Adela Ramirez was the least engaging of the soloists. I much prefer the backdrop after Corot to the original ruined abbey; it was all lit most sympathetically by David Mohr.

Two young company members made their débuts in Le Spectre de la Rose, showing a somewhat different version of the choreography from what the guest Australian soloists had offered early in the week. This was infinitely better: a clearer narrative was apparent and the exotic-looking Anton Lukovkin was less virtuosic in his steps (all to the good) but far more evocative of the embodiment of the rose itself, wafting perfume with exotic ports de bras and a flexible back. Ksenia Ovsyanick stuck the right note too, and they both made this old war-horse, which some say un-danceable, into an exciting and valid work, capable of delighting and moving its audience.

Anaïs Chalendard has had a good week, from a very promising Polyhymnia in Apollo, to an intelligent Young Girl in Spectre, and here she danced The Dying Swan, thankfully in a copy of Anna Pavlova’s costume rather than the aberration that was Karl Lagerfeld’s essay in tutu design. Her version differed slightly from what we had seen earlier in the week, and worked somewhat better. It is nonsense, but Chalendard made it bearable. For the record David Dawson’s nonsensical Faun(e) was again performed.

The main protagonist in Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring is the company itself, the mass which dances The Chosen One to death. ENB performs it as if the lives of its dancers depended on it, with a visceral and violent performance mirroring the brutality in the pit (an ENB Orchestra on great form, except for some insecure string solos). Nijinsky’s original Rite is essentially lost (there is a dubious ‘reconstructed’ version around) and MacMillan’s stands as one of the finest extant versions along with Bausch and Béjart. I marvel at its inventiveness and originality – how often ballets achieve greatness because their setting and internal logic, even their vocabulary of movement are unique to it, atypical of the choreographer himself – think Balanchine’s Apollo, Nijinska’s Les Noces and Ashton’s Ondine. This Rite of Spring is precisely that one-off for MacMillan, and the flood of invention in pose, tableau and movement is astonishing. Sarah McIlroy, in shape and form reminiscent of Monica Mason, the role’s creator, gave a wide-eyed and nuanced rendition of the part, danced to her death by her tribe.

Overall then, this was dance making of the highest order, and ENB can be justifiably proud of having delivered over the course of this week some of the most exciting ballet dancing London has seen all season in two exceptionally satisfying mixed bills which easily outstrip anything seen in the capital for some time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content