English National Ballet – Beyond Ballets Russes: 2 [Apollo … Le Train bleu – Le beau gosse … Jeux … Suite en blanc]


Apollo – Zdenek Konvalina
Terpsichore – Daria Klimentová
Polyhymnia – Anaïs Chalendard
Calliope – Begoña Cao

George Balanchine – George Balanchine
Igor Stravinsky – Music
David Mahr – Lighting
Nanette Glushak – Staging


Dancers –Elena Glurdjidze, Fernanda Oliveira, Begoña Cao, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Junor Souza, James Streeter

Wayne Eagling, reconstructed from Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Claude Debussy – Music
David Richardson – Lighting
Wizzy Shawyer – Costumes

Le Train bleu – Le beau gosse

Boy – Vadim Muntagirov

Bronislava Nijinska – Choreography
Darius Milhaud – Music
Coco Chanel – Costume design

Suite en blanc

Sieste – Kerry Birkett, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Alison McWhinney
Pas de Trois – Laurretta Summerscales, Ken Saruhashi, Vadim Muntagirov
Serenade – Crystal Costa
Pas de Cinq – Nancy Osbaldston, Anton Lukovkin, Van le Ngoc, Laurent Liotardo, Daniel Kraus
Cigarette – Elena Glurdjidze
Mazurka – Yonah Acosta
Pas de deux – Erina Takahashi, Zdenek Konvalina
Flute – Erina Takahashi

Serge Lifar – Choreography
Edouard Lalo – Music
Serge Lifar – Music arrangements
Maina Gielgud – Staging

Orchestra of English National Ballet
Gavin Sutherland

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 28 March, 2012
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Programme 1 was good, and Programme 2 is quite superb. An unfortunate situation meant that Toer van Schayk, the Dutch choreographer, was unable to create a new piece as the centrepiece of what was to be a triple bill. Instead, Wayne Eagling, ENB’s outgoing director currently the subject of much virtual ink (almost entirely in his favour, I might add), has re-imagined Nijinsky’s 1913 Jeux using the choreography created by Kenneth MacMillan for Herbert Ross’s film Nijinsky and adding his own, and he has also revived the acrobatic solo for Le beau gosse (the handsome lad) from Nijinska’s 1924 ballet Le Train Bleu. What this has done is to make a mixed bill of quite exceptional interest, especially so given the bookends of Balanchine’s peerless 1928 Apollo and Serge Lifar’s 1943 Suite en blanc (Lifar created the role of the eponymous god in the earlier work). Truly a tribute to the legacy of the Ballets Russes. Interestingly, it acts also a sort of homage to the great male dancers that Diaghilev fostered: Vaclav Nijinsky, Anton Dolin and Serge Lifar (only Léonide Massine is missing).

It makes for a heady evening of dance, starting not least with Zdenek Konvalina’s quite extraordinary interpretation of the young god in Apollo. Not only is Konvalina is a great classicist but he also imbues the role with a farouche quality, a nervy unpredictability quite apposite for the fledgling divinity. He carves out the choreography with ease, commanding the stage, unquestioning in the need for all to adore him; his solos were powerful, almost forceful, and what they lacked in accuracy at rare moments, they made up for with unbridled vigour. It is a shame that the ballet was given without the Prologue (thereby giving a musical overture to the work which opens with Apollo centre-stage with his lyre). The Prologue gives the narrative – we see the labour of Leto and the birth of the god; it is important to see the entire ballet as his ‘education’, which then makes perfect sense of his call at the end of the ballet to Olympus. Konvalina’s extraordinary Apollo was ably matched by three very successful muses; Begoña Cao’s long-limbed sensuality as Calliope was likable, and Daria Klimentová played a controlled Terpsichore who, after having been identified as the muse de choix, certainly looked like the cat who had got the cream – she and Konvalina delivered their pas de deux with just the right amount of cool – strong emotions bubbled below the surface. The ENB orchestra under Gavin Sutherland were careful with Stravinsky’s score, its at-times chamber-like quality sitting uneasily on them, although the apotheosis was expertly played. In all, however, it was, a wonderful performance of one of the greatest ballets of the twentieth century.

Eagling’s re-imagining of Jeux is good, clean fun – a Nijinsky-like figure in period practice clothes (Dmitri Grudyev) grasps a sheet of paper and sitting in front of a piano and a pair of ballet barres: the choreographer grappling with Debussy’s wonderful score? A case of choreographer’s block? Qui le sait? However, what then happens is that a tennis ball comes bouncing across the stage (a feature of the Nijinsky original) and the characters from that ballet appear (recognisable from the still photographs of the original dancers) with the addition of two more – who knows who. And now Nijinsky dances with them all, though mostly with the two women from the ‘Jeux’ trio Elena Glurjidze and Fernanda Oliveira. We certainly see those iconic poses; we can undoubtedly identify some MacMillan trademark movements. It is all quite jolly, certainly evocative of period, and a fair interpretation, giving the six dancers ample opportunities. Debussy’s music, which did not find favour in 1913, is lush (and here beautifully played), but not always matched by the action. Eagling’s coup is, in the closing moments of the work when all the imagined dancers have left ‘Nijinsky’ once more alone, to have the character of Diaghilev enter. Nijinsky cowers (I hope we are not going to see a modern reappraisal of Diaghilev as a monster) and the impresario throws him a tennis ball. Neat, and a perfect match to the witty, enigmatic closing notes of the score.

Bronislava Nijinska’s Le train bleu was totally du moment, Cocteau’s 1923 celebration of the eponymous train which had started whisking the Parisian beau monde to the delights of the Côte d’Azur the previous year. Set on a beach, it comments on the goings-on that sun, sand and sea seem to engender. Le beau gosse (the handsome lad) is a beach lothario, a show-off (and choreographically first cousin to the wonderful male trio of beach boys in the choreographer’s delicious 1924 Les Biches). Created on the British dancer Anton Dolin to show off his acrobatic skills, the role demands bravado and bravura; his solo is full of tricks and tumbles, leaps and hand-stands. Vadim Mutagirov, ever more impressive at each showing, and happily sporting the Chanel-designed bathing costume complete with tan-lines on his thighs, strutted his way through it to Milhaud’s boisterous score. It is all great fun, genuinely funny and it is pure serendipity that it features on this programme. It certainly put a spring into everyone’s step for the second interval.

The final piece is Serge Lifar’s glittering Suite en blanc, his blueprint for academic dance as he saw it and a bravura showpiece, demanding technique, style and panache created, unbelievably in 1943 during the dark days of the German Occupation. ENB are immensely fortunate to have Maina Gielgud on their staff – this world-class teacher and coach was taught the Cigarette solo by Lifar himself and has staged the work around the world. Her revival of the ballet last year was greeted with general rapture, and this outing receives no less praise here. This is a great company work, a showpiece of dancing which brims with choreographic ideas. The Orchestra whipped up a real storm with Lalo’s music (from his 1882 ballet Namouna) and the dancers responded to the demands of this work with enthusiasm and brio, even if at times, the last ounce of precision was missing. The long-skirted trio of Sieste, who showed cohesion of style and a satisfying languor in the upper body and arms, impressed; Muntagirov was noteworthy in the pas de trois alongside the gazelle-like Laurretta Summerscales and the pas de deux saw Konvalina attentive to his ballerina Erina Takahashi who delivered the Flute solo with wit and élan. Most impressive of all was Elena Glurjidze in Cigarette – her musicality, careful placement and clear enjoyment shone out. It is rare to experience an evening at the ballet of such manifold delights – ENB and Eagling are to be thrice cheered for livening up the London dance scene with this most welcome Coliseum season whose second programme is simply a must-see.

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