The ballet world may have been less than impressed with Black Swan, but English National Ballet is sensibly exploiting the boost that the film has given to ballet’s profile. Its action packed mixed bill Black and White boasts Natalie Portman’s Black Swan pas de deux from Act Three of Swan Lake alongside four other works.
The highlight of the evening, however, is Men Y Men which sees the men alone dancing to Rachmaninoff. Each pair of them seems to serve the role typically reserved for a male and female, only with a strength, muscularity and symmetry to their movement that comes from the partnership’s unique make-up. The precision on display is exceptional, and one section sees the dancers moving continuously from right to left across the stage as a sole person ‘breaks free’ to perform outwards. Men Y Men looks sure to become a classic, so it is incredible to think that Wayne Eagling originally devised it to give the male dancers something to do as they had less to rehearse for a 2009 production of Giselle.
The programme begins with Resolution, also choreographed by Eagling. It employs Friedrich Rückert poems set to music by Mahler, with the five Lieder, beautifully sung by Elizabeth Sikora, translating to five dances. Though none of these are choreographically connected, the variation in itself generates an overarching unity to the piece, the movements as a whole characterised by a fluid energy. The first Lied sees four ballerinas in velvety red and purple costumes, sometimes moving altogether, sometimes ever so slightly staggering their turns. The final powerful Lied, in contrast, sees two men holding a third aloft suggesting a crucifixion, or laying him out like a Pietà.
The programme also includes a world premiere of Vue de l’autre, choreographed by Van Le Ngoc. With Ludovico Einaudi’s score full of ‘beauty, delicacy and depth’, there is a great emphasis on human relationships in the work, which starts with three pas de deuxs. Each is different in style, showing how each relationship is unique, and the second becomes a pas de trois as a third dancer introduces a further dynamic. The first, on the other hand, seems to suggest the most harmonious relationship, which the dream team of Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová are perfectly suited to representing.
The piece that most closely rivals Men Y Men for supremacy is Suite en Blanc, choreographed by Serge Lifar in 1943 and not performed by ENB for 35 years. It transplants all of the excitement of a showpiece ballet into a beautifully crafted eight dances that show off the best of a vast range of performers. It is a joyous and exuberant way to end the evening with the pas de cinq, cigarette and mazurka standing out as particular highlights.
As for the Black Swan pas de deux, it is possible to dwell on the many problems. Out of context on a bare stage, it is hard for the two performers to assert their characters, and the absence of the other parts eliminates the Black Swan’s all-important asides to her father. By the same token, however, it is enjoyable to witness such a clean, stripped down interpretation of this iconic piece and Erina Takahashi and Dmitri Gruzdyev, fresher than they ever would be in the full ballet, dance it very well.
The English National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake is at the Coliseum from 22nd-26th March 2011.