TV Review: Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet: Episode 2: BBC4, 15 Mar 2011

Seconds Out – Round Two

Injured ENB dancers wait patiently outside the physio's office to get their limbs forced back into place

The excellent Agony & Ecstasy should be renamed A & E after the amount of injuries stacking up in the series. Episode 2, concerning the mounting of Rudolf Nureyev’s production of Romeo and Juliet, was awash with sprained arms, nose bleeds and gored hands.

Repeating the trick of Episode one in contrasting the fortunes of a young upcoming dancer, Max Westwell, with the intelligent but luckless 36 year old Daniel Jones worked well. Pub geezer Max was in the successful throes of preparing for his first principle role as Romeo. Daniel on the other hand, recently recovered from injury and pessimistic about his future, got himself injured in a multitude of ways during rehearsals, lost his fight for a larger salary increase for his fellow dancers and finally succumbed to a hernia which would put him out of action for at least six months. In a straight fight between Agony and Ecstasy the sensible money seems to be on Agony every time.

The shadow and extravagances of Nureyev hang heavily over the production. His insistence on a huge cast of male dancers, while admirable in pushing forward the role of the male dancer in classical ballet, has consequently placed the company under impossible demands which results in most of the men having to learn many different roles simultaneously – ‘No lunch breaks for me this week’, as Max ruefully put it – and an undignified jostling for position to get to the physio’s room first.

After last week’s Derek Deane insult-fest at least there was a more forgiving choreographer on display in the shape of Patricia Ruanne who showed, without shouting or throwing wobblies, that the desired results can be achieved far less stressfully through explanation, motivation and encouragement.

Playing the Capulets to the ENB’s Montagus was the government and the imminent threat of funding cuts. The programme suggests that ENB’s Managing Director Craig Hassall and his team felt restructuring and redundancies were inevitable from the start and seem to have made very little attempt to find other ways of recouping any lost funding. This might be untrue and may be due to slanted editing, an unwillingness to reveal new plans or a whole number of different reasons. But there lies the problem of letting the TV cameras in; a one-sided picture of a company in a time of financial crisis is beginning to emerge, one of resignation and unproductive mumblings of ‘how can they do this to the arts?’. Could it be that English National Ballet itself is the next body heading for the A & E department?

The third and final episode is aired on BBC4, March 22, 9pm.

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