Two years after Tamara Rojo’s first mixed programme as artistic director, English National Ballet is presenting another bill recognising contemporary choreographers. The two programmes share one work: Jiří Kylián’s Petit Mort. The dancers are clad in flesh-coloured corsetry while Kylián’s classicism morphs abruptly into rigid angles that melt into luscious lines again. Fernanda Oliveira and Fabian Reimair formed a compelling partnership, while Laurretta Summerscales and Junor Souza oozed sexiness. But it was Ksenia Ovsyanick, from her entrance via a neck drop, who stood out most – Kylián’s language looked utterly natural to her.
If the first run was about ENB’s enthusiasm for this style, they have nailed it in the revival. It was a sublime synchronisation of choreography and Mozart’s soulful piano concertos.
Also in the programme is the UK premiere of Spring And Fall by John Neumeier – the work of whom does not grace the London stage often. It’s all terribly twee, full of glimpses of pastoral ballet past. Against a pastel backdrop and warm lighting, the men and women resemble villagers in countless ballets.
But Neumeier moves the proceedings on. The gender separation is refreshing – the men and women rarely dance with each other in conventional partnering. It’s certainly nice to see the women not being manipulated, their hip shakes and swinging arms conveying a happy abandon. The men have the better parts here – swamping the stage in a celebration of boyish joy. Cesar Corrales – a newcomer – looked particularly at home. One to watch.
Alina Cojocaru literally and figuratively lit up the stage as she entered, full of flirtatiousness and cheekiness, like Giselle without the heart problems. Alejandro Virelles was a functional rather than starry partner.
There’s no denying that the central pas de deux is lovely, with some delicate lifts. But it barely distinguishes itself from pas de deux in other ballets. Amid the small quirks in the piece, it feels earnest and jars with the rest. And, for the work as a whole, the original moments do not quite lift it above average.
But it is William Forsyth’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated that’s the real draw – a seminal piece that has been absent from London for a while.
Forsyth twists classical choreography into a language that stunned the audience in 1987: a simple sauté is paired with an arched back, a standard arabesque with stiff, straight arms. And it still has that power today. Accompanied by a relentless electronic score punctuated by crashes, there’s a brutality to it that is a million miles away from picture-book balancés and promenades. And yet it never resorts to the exaggerated angles that make us fear for dancers’ hips that are so prevalent in modern ballet choreography.
The nine dancers move with pinpoint precision. They watch on the sidelines, weighing each other up, eyeing the coveted golden cherries the title refers to. Best still, everyone is equal and all get to shine.
Begoña Cao was incredible. In fact, it was hard to watch others when she was on stage – and she was rarely off it – with her gorgeous arabesques and développés hitting every note and the right angle perfectly. Then there’s Fernanda Oliveira, crystal clear in her fluttering footwork and every split leap hits 180 degrees.
Well-known past female leads of In The Middle include Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell, but this is not something that daunts Cojocaru – her final pas de deux (again with Virelles, who came to life after the subdued Neumeier) was a masterclass.
That said, for the first time in ages, Cojocaru did not particularly stand out here – the ENB cast have all massively upped their game. And credit is due for these dancers who never dipped in energy, driving this production to its exhilarating conclusion with real style. That alone is worth five stars.