New English Ballet Theatre has an entirely laudable ethos – founded in 2012, it’s a company of 14 young dancers bringing neoclassical work by emerging choreographers to the stage, often accompanied by live music and original design. Despite this abundance of ambition and the vitality of its dancers, NEBT’s latest program of five short new works, Quint-essential, yields rather disappointing choreographic results.
That said, there’s an arresting section of subaquatic strangeness in Marcelino Sambé’s Land of Nod, a piece for three dancers inspired by the weird reality of dreams. On the whole it’s performed with a quicksilver lightness from Hannah Sofo especially – she sinks to the stage before undulating upwards, feet flexing and wrists flickering. However, some of the partnering (especially the transitions in and out of lifts) could do with more finesse.
Sambé shares choreographic duties with two of his fellow Royal Ballet soloists, Valentino Zucchetti and Kristen McNally. The latter is known for her wit and originality, but Moonshine (inspired by and danced to Alexandre Desplate’s soundtrack to The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a frustratingly slight work. There’s some amusing stuff in there – rhythmic capering and one dancer pushing another around like a lawnmower – but the humour wanes and the studied quirkiness and folky steps turn lacklustre.
Enticement’s Lure, by Zucchetti, sounds like a well-thumbed Mills and Boone paperback and it looks a bit like a turgid bodice-ripper too. Set to Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque No. 1, it’s intended to be a study of the disastrous effect of temptation on the relationship between two couples. Unfortunately, it’s about as nuanced as a tie-dyed merkin. Temptation is here embodied by a male dancer clad in slinky black who swaps the couples around into compromising positions and gives fruity little pouts to the audience. Another bloke in head-to-toe beige looks a bit concerned, while a female in a skimpy (you guessed it) red dress gets to do the whole slaggy ballet sex-witch thing that involves high leg extensions and much stroking of her own flanks.
George Williamson’s Strangers also looks at a faltering male/female relationship, with three pairs of dancers representing the couple at different stages. This triple refraction is an interesting conceit, but really it’s the tangled same-sex pas de trois for the men that’s most engaging. By and large the choreography cannot match the masterly emotional intensity of its score, the first movement of Brahms’s cello sonata No. 1 in E Minor, played with a brooding richness by Anne Lovett and Anna Menzies.
The last piece of the evening is Daniela Cardim’s Vertex, set to Camargo Guarnieri’s tricky second string quartet. By turns staccato and supple, it captures a mood of sunlit peppiness that’s tempered by a more elegiac duet for two females. Overall it’s a shapely piece, buoyed by Pablo Luque Romero’s nimble solos, though it feels slightly derivative at times. For NEBT to flourish as they deserve, they need braver choreography than this.
NEBT are performing at the Peacock Theatre until 12th November 2016. Click here for more details.