Song of the Earth/La Sylphide – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 9 January 2018

Soilphide

A good grounding. Tamara Rojo in Song of the Earth. Photo courtesy of The Royal Ballet

You can see why Tamara Rojo has added Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth to the repertoire of English National Ballet – Mahler’s music looks so good on her body it could make you cry. The years she spent at The Royal Ballet steeping herself in the MacMillan tradition has left a burning intensity that ripples through her every limb; the stretch of her arms, the tilt of her head, even the turn of an elbow, is suffused with a dramatic foreboding of desolation. I know that sounds pretentious but I don’t know how else to put it. She was magnificent.

Understandably, the rest of her company weren’t up to her level in this one (few in the world are) but they made a good fist of it. It’s an unforgiving piece for a small ensemble, with stylised movement and an exposing synchronisation that magnifies the smallest misdemeanour, but, on the whole, the dancers were assured, focussed and produced an intelligent performance. Fernando Carratalá Coloma gave excellent support as The Messenger of Death, Senri Kou stood out for her crisp line and Joseph Caley more than did his bit in a truly memorable duet with Rojo towards the end.

Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker were the thoroughly decent on-stage singers and the English National Ballet Philharmonic played Mahler’s testing score with aplomb. This is the Company’s first season performing Song of the Earth so there’s every chance it’ll get even better over the next few years.

Accompanying this deeply thoughtful piece was the altogether more svelte La Sylphide. Brought over from its Bournonville home in Copenhagen, Frank Andersen’s production is unlikely to win any Olivier Awards for stage design but it’s an entertaining romp nevertheless. The Scottish-based plot is silly (think Giselle with soft wilis, ho-ho) and characters such as Effy and Gurn verge on the irritatingly naff. ENB, however, played it with just about enough ham, epitomised by Jane Haworth’s brilliantly over-the-top wicked witch Madge.

Jurgita Dronina took on the title role and somehow turned her winningly cheeky Sylph into a distinctly moving figure  by the end. The stand-out performance belonged to her human lover James; Isaac Hernández displayed some fabulously quick feet, impressive jumps and lightning fast skips and looked truly at home in both the role and Bournonville’s specialised technique. Elsewhere, Daniel Kraus’ Gurn was suitably daft, Precious Adams was impressive as First Slyph, and the corps (as they so often are nowadays) were terrific.

Song of the Earth/La Sylphide runs at the London Coliseum until 13 January 2018. La Sylphide then carries on from 16-20 January 2018 but partnered instead with Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. Tickets and more info can be found on ENB’s website.

Gerard Davis

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