English National Ballet’s new choreography project sees them team up with the Royal College of Music to offer five dancers the chance to create something in a true spirit of “collaboration”.
Makoto Nakamura’s piece takes its cue from the Japanese saying “All is one and one is all” in A Fruitful Death. Gerardo Gozzi has, in turn, composed a score that sounds like ancient Japanese music stripped to its bare bones. As three hooded figures open the piece, we are in familiar territory. Junor Souza and Juan Rodríguez take turns to manipulate Anaïs Chalendard, who tries to escape but inevitably finds herself back in their hold. In the end, there’s a hint of rebirth as Chalendard reaches upwards – though it’s a shame that Nakamura has succumbed to some clichés to get there.
A Fruitful Death is at its most interesting during the pas de deux between Souza and Rodríguez. At times, it’s a conventional male/female pas de deux, but other times it feels more as a power struggle, with Souza’s classical lyricism contrasting with Rodríguez’s masculine strength.
For whatever reason, Nakamura has chosen to give Chalendard nothing to do during this section – not only does this seem a wasted opportunity, it doesn’t provide particularly interesting viewing for a piece that, in total, only lasts ten minutes.
Anton Lukovkin’s Waiting For The One explores the forming and deteriorating of relationships and, like A Fruitful Death, covers pretty safe ground. The three couples move through phrases of loving tenderness, though Alison McWhinney and James Forbat do stand out – she with some beautiful lines and his turns full of bravura.
Bridgett Zehr is cast as the “lonely” girl who walks around, watching the others, yearning for love. She finds hope in a letter after a (frankly bizarre) party scene, but the role feels surplus to requirement.
Fabian Reimar’s [Co][hes][ion] falls into the trap of fitting too many ideas into a theme that becomes, ironically, less coherent. There’s the notion of particle “cohesion”, the use of a separate reprise that suggests “two floating particles following a delayed pattern”, and some elaborate play on words with the name that conveys the lightness of carbon monoxide, he/she and atoms. Less is more is a saying for a reason.
Possibly due to the need to show the “coming together”, it must have been decided that the choreography at the start should involve minimal contact. But the initial pas de deux is a little obvious, with poor Ken Saruhashi subjecting principal ballerina Erina Takahasi to The Force with what can only be described as Minority Report arms.
Much better is the partnership between Nancy Osbaldeston and Laurent Liotardo, their energy derived entirely from each other’s momentum and they move with a smoothness, as if glued together, that betrays how hard it is.
That said, Joshua McSherry-Gray and Jung ah Choi are the standout pair, possessing a buoyancy that really conveys the bounce of atoms. Jung, in particular, makes her series of kicks look unbelievably easy and is incredibly watchable. Their reprise shows Reimar’s choreography at its best, and that same focus should have been apparent in the whole piece.
Tamarin Stott has created a supremely confident piece of work that brings out the personalities of the dancers. Her combination of everyday movements and warm-up steps is accompanied by a smorgasbord of everyday noise and soundbites. Together with the blocked lights that zone in on each dancer, Work In Progress reminds me of Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet. Araminta Wraith nails the choreography’s crisp arabesques and jazzy, popping hips.
At one point, a sound sample says: “Maybe you should have a melody or something” But Stott has actually created something that works perfectly against Ryan Cockerham’s energetic soundtrack – and it is stylish and sassy.
Of the five pieces on show, Domna feels the most complete. Inspired by Philip Larkin’s mournful Places, Loved Ones, Stina Quagebeur has chosen to focus on the search for that “loved one”. Nathan Young is the hapless young man looking for his true love (Jia Zhang), but each time she is within his reach, she is replaced by someone else. Fresh from playing the femme fatale in Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, Zhang takes on a similar role here and looks equal parts sinister and sexy with her long, lingering limbs.
This “replacement” device is used three times, but Quagebeur has ensured each partnering is sufficiently different – Adela Ramirez is cold and “plays” him quite literally, while Crystal Acosta’s obsessive clinginess almost gets his full attention until Zhang reappears.
There’s a wonderful “ghosts of girlfriends past” sequence in which the trio comes back to haunt him, looking increasingly menacing as they corner him, their pointe work dangerously sharp, and culminating in a brief but visually stunning ending that gives a very cinematic aesthetic to the piece.
Choreographics – A Letter To… provides dancers the opportunity to develop and grow, and experience something outside of their comfort zone. It also affords them the luxury of working with a composer, essentially commissioning a score. Hats off to Lukovkin for being the only one honest enough to admit wanting to edit the music to fit his work – this is a challenging undertaking and the five dancers take to it with gusto. As part of ENB’s commitment to become the most creative ballet company, it’s an initiative that should be applauded. And judging from the sell-out opening night and the ranks of ENB dancers in the audience, it seems to have given the company an all-important boost.