TV Review: Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet: Episode 1: BBC4, 8 Mar 2011

And you thought bullying in the workplace was outlawed

Smile or you're sacked. The Derek Deane charm offensive is underway.

What an endearing chap Derek Deane is. Often found flouncing around the studios of English National Ballet throwing strops at scared teenagers he sadly rather took over this otherwise engaging BBC documentary on the English National Ballet preparing for their production of Swan Lake at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Adhering to every bullying choreography stereotype in the book he came over as something as the witless Black Swan offspring of Louis Spence and Austin Powers. Consequently all the good and dedicated work the ENB do in bringing ballet to the UK was overshadowed by his hissy fits and miserable tongue.

  In fact the whole tone of the programme, the first of three, was more agony than ecstasy and tended to focus on the darker side of ballet life with an array of bunions, crocked knees and insecure dancers in tremendous pain. Ostensibly the main thrust of the piece was in following 20 year old First Artist Vadim Muntagirov as he prepared for his first major role as Siegfried after just six months with the company. Tremendous dancer though he is his empty off-stage persona just didn’t make good TV so attention was soon switched to the refreshingly realistic Daria Klimentova, a Senior Principle who didn’t really want the hassle (in her words) of an opening night Swan Lake because at her age it was hardly going to make her a star. Her obvious reluctance when Biffa Deane told her the Christmas present he was going to give her was the highlight of the whole show.

   Where Agony & Ecstasy succeeded was in demonstrating the stifling conditions and sheer hard work that the dancers go through in order to perfect their art. The trials and tribulations of the corps and also the rarely lime-lighted freelance dancers were a real eye-opener and something that every ballet Mum and Dad should show to their ballerina wannabee. This was contrasted beautifully with the short, glamorous performance footage at the end with its subsequent high of applause, adoration and flowers. But then in came Deano who spoilt it all by having a go at Daria for not being over-the-top enough in the final act. Not something you could accuse him of.

   The second episode, featuring preparations for Romeo & Juliet, is on BBC4 Tuesday 15th March, 9pm.

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