Three cheers to Tamara Rojo for bringing in repertoire that other British companies tend to reserve for bargepoles. Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier and William Forsythe are all under-employed in the UK so it was great to see English National Ballet approach them so fearlessly in Modern Masters.
Kylián’s Petite Mort is a piece they’ve performed before and it showed. The swords that opened it were all on target and the dancers were assured and confident, nailing the smoothly angled movement and working with, rather than against, a pair of Mozart’s piano concertos.
I’m not sure there’s a better abstract interpretation of a piece of music than Kylián’s for the Andante of the Piano Concerto in C Major. It just works somehow, despite what you’d expect to be a jarring between the classical and the modern. The string of pas de deux at its core were all danced superbly but special mention should go to Ksenia Ovsyanick and James Forbat for their sensuality and elasticity.
The UK premiere of Neumeier’s Spring and Fall wasn’t danced with quite such aplomb. It’s a busy piece with a crowded stage and a lot of white linen flittering about. After a fleet-footed opening salvo from Alejandro Virelles, James Forbat and Cesar Corralles it was all a bit confusing and even a cheeky wink at a passing fella from Alina Cojocaru didn’t resolve anything. But suddenly all became right with the world in the penultimate movement when Cojocaru and Virelles joined together beautifully in an understated pas de deux of pure grace and elegance.
Quite a contrast to the electronic thrust and dagger of Forsythe’s masterpiece In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. While it’s true that Thom Willem’s chunky synthesiser score has dated a little, the demands Forsythe placed on the dancers has not. It’s a dynamic world, aggressive in its stabbing of pointe shoes and its uncomfortable twisting of legs and torsos. It’s hectic, angular and devilishly quick and on the whole the Company were pretty sharp – the closing duet between Cojocaru and Virelles was sensational in its speed and accuracy.
In short, it was great to see English National Ballet reaching out into different styles of choreography again. What was even better was to see the dancers responding accordingly. A shift in identity is clearly under way and to me, it’s for the better.
Modern Masters runs at Sadler’s Wells until 15 March 2015. For more info, casting and tickets, the ENB website is very helpful.