English National Ballet – Beyond Ballets Russes: 1 [Firebird … L’Après-midi d’un faune … Faun(e) … The Rite of Spring]


Firebird – Ksenia Ovsyanick
Peacock – Francisco Bosch
Purity – Laurretta Summerscales
Lead Celebrity – Adela Ramirez
Army captain – Junor Souza
Three Muses – Jia Zhang, Araminta Wraith, Désirée Ballantyne

George Williamson – Choreography
Igor Stravinsky – Music
David Bamber & George Williamson in collaboration with John Campbell Scenic Studio – Set designs
David Bamber – Costume designs
Nicholas Holdridge – Lighting

L’Après-midi d’un faune

Faune – Anton Lukovkin
Lead Nymph – Begoña Cao
Nymphs – Stina Quagebeur, Alison McWhinney, Amber Hunt, Kerry Birkett, Araminta Wraith, Désirée Ballantyne

Vaslav Nijinsky – Choreography
Claude Debussy – Music
Léon Bakst – Set & costume design
John B. Read – Lighting


Dancers – Jan Casier, Raphaël Coumes-Marquet

Kevin Darvas & Chris Swithinbank (pianos)

David Dawson – Choreography
Claude Debussy – Music [arranged for two pianos]
David Dawson – Design & lighting
Yumiko Takeshima – Costume Design

The Rite of Spring

The Chosen One – Tamarin Stott

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Igor Stravinsky – Music
Kinder Aggugini – Design
John B. Read – Lighting

Orchestra of English National Ballet
Gavin Sutherland

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 23 March, 2012
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Outgoing ENB director Wayne Eagling deserves praise for scheduling two programmes around the Ballets Russes legacy (L’Après-midi d’un faune is 100 years old); indeed, over the two evenings, a spread of superlative choreography is on offer, intelligently put together. In this first programme, the feast was, if nothing else, for the ears – two of Stravinsky’s magisterial ballet scores for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes sandwiching Debussy’s extraordinary composition which was to be used for Nijinsky’s first choreographic work. Gavin Sutherland and the ENB orchestra delivered fine, spirited performances, not least of The Rite of Spring, which pulsated with primeval force. Alas, Firebird had been cut by the choreographer, which robbed it of its structure, although the orchestra responded well to its luscious scoring.

Firebird was as ill-conceived a work as can be imagined. George Williamson, barely out of ballet school, has had the confidence (temerity?) to tackle this mammoth work, seemingly unconcerned by the string of successful versions, the greatest of which is, of course, Fokine’s original. It is utterly incomprehensible – the programme notes shedding no more light on its purpose; a cursory glance at the named characters indicates the muddled concept. The central creature of the Firebrid (a stoic, unflappable and ultimately long-suffering Ksenia Ovsyanick) remains, but she is as much amphibian as avian in David Bamber’s truly hideous costuming; her feathered headdress made her resemble some crested newt, or perhaps fire salamander, even if her choreography was more turkey.

Elsewhere, a motley crew of appallingly kitted-out dancers came and went on their tedious and useless way, resembling a somewhat down-at-heel Seventies Soviet ice-dance troupe. These poor dancers were dressed variously as gladiators, pole-dancers and one, I swear, as a lumpy bunch of purple-sprouting broccoli. The man responsible for this is David Bamber who has been affiliated to Gucci, Calvin Klein and Christian Dior (as what, one may ask); he should not be allowed near a dance stage. Williamson’s steps are devoid of interest, a lucky dip of stock spins, leaps and poses which have no meaning. The curtain drew a welcome veil over this sorry state of affairs.

The pairing of the original L’Après-mide d’un faune with a modern interpretation was a good idea. The first was presented with a recreation of Léon Bakst’s wondrous backdrop and in his superlative costumes – is there anything more beautiful than the nymphs’ chitons? The ballet was given in Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke’s production based on Nijinsky’s dance notation. How authentic it all is is anybody’s guess, but the work weaved its now centenarian magic, with Anton Lukovkin a decidedly Slavic Faune, straining in the frieze-like poses, exulting in the role’s animal nature. One wishes for even more rutting sex, and his final orgasmic thrust and shudder on the Lead Nymph’s scarf , which so shocked the audiences of 1912, has been excised. Begoña Cao was an excellent Lead Nymph, the object of the young Faune’s desires.

The revival of Faun(e) was welcome, David Dawson’s response to Debussy’s music and Nijinsky’s concept. He places the dance on a bare stage, peopled only by two pianists stationed on either side and by one and then two male dancers. The first, older man (the mightily impressive Raphaël Coumes-Marquet from Dresden’s SemperOper Ballet), enacts various moves and is then joined by a younger dancer (Jan Casier from Royal Ballet of Flaners, replacing an indisposed Esteban Berlanga). The two dance together, in unison or in canon, together or apart, Dawson weaving them around each other in a highly charged and homoerotic manner (Diaghilev and Nijinsky?). Dawson has stated that the work is about the passing on of knowledge, which is at the heart of ballet as an art form, and, indeed, Casier ends the work alone, performing the very moves that Coumes-Marquet opened with. It was a well-conceived central section to the programme and did much to dispel images of the horror that was Firebird.

Kenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring is 50 years old this year and for this revival received a make-over. The Royal Ballet still perform the work in its original, unsurpassed Sidney Nolan designs, but when ENB acquired the ballet, they had it designed afresh. That production has been jettisoned for that by another fashion industry guru, Kinder Aggugini, who has been Head Designer for Versace. He has gone for a retro look, bizarrely more dated than Nolan’s now-old but ultimately timeless evocations of the aboriginal aesthetic. Men and women are dressed in what appear to be either black cycling shorts or three-quarter leggings, a curious breast-plate effect for the torso and both ankle warmers and wrist-bands, with the odd head-band thrown in. The dancers are topped out with short, unflattering wigs (he eschews Nolan’s long quasi-dreadlocks for the women that MacMillan used to great effect as they moved). It is all very 1980s, dystopia. Strangely, face make-up was very plain except for lines painted on the jaw which looked like scars, though the dancers were more individual than they should be – the whole narrative is that of the tribe acting as one, faceless individuals (Nolan’s white face make-up and bald heads for the men make no dancer identifiable) from whom one – The Chosen One – is selected who will then dance herself to death for them.

The whole work is presented in a black box with stark overhead and side lighting. This works in its way – MacMillan’s ballet is too strong to be crippled by changes in décor – and the company threw themselves heart and soul into this extraordinary choreographic essay which displays its own complete and decidedly un-balletic vocabulary of movement. At its centre was First Artist Tamarin Stott in her role debut. She gave a performance of blistering intensity, her eyes wide in terror as she embarked upon her totentanz, the exhausting choreography carefully etched, yet appearing entirely spontaneous.

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