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The English National Ballet On Tour Spreads The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Festivities

The English National Ballet's Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the pas de deux from Swan Lake. Photo by Annabel Moeller.
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The English National Ballet's Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the pas de deux from Swan Lake. Photo by Lightbox Photography.
The English National Ballet’s Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the pas de deux from Swan Lake. Photo by Lightbox Photography.

The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood, Sydney: 8 June 2012
continues in Sydney until 17 June.

The English National Ballet's Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the Pas de Deux from Suite En Blanc. Photo by Lightbox Photography.
The English National Ballet’s Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov in the Pas de Deux from Suite En Blanc. Photo by Lightbox Photography.

Apollo (Apollon Musagète)
Choreography – George Balanchine
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Lighting – David Mohr
Staging – Annette Glushak

Apollo – Vadim Muntagirov
Terpsichore – Daria Klimentová
Polyhymnia – Anaïs Chalendard
Calliope – Adela Ramírez

Trois Gnossiennes
Choreography – Hans van Manen
Music – Erik Satie

Adela Ramírez
Fabian Reimair
Kevin Darvas – piano

Manon (Act I pas de deux)
Choreography – Kenneth MacMillan
Music – Jules Massenet, arr. Martin Yates
Set and costumes – Mia Stensgaard
Lighting – Mikki Kunttu
Staging – Monica Parker

Manon – Elena Glurdjidze
Des Grieux – Arionel Vargas

Swan Lake (Act III grand pas de deux)
Choreography – Marius Petipa
Music – Tchaikovsky
Design – Peter Farmer
Lighting – David Richardson

Odile – Daria Klimentová
Siegfried – Vadim Muntagirov

Suite en Blanc
Choreography – Serge Lifar
Music – Edouard Lalo, arr. Gavin Sutherland
Staging – Maina Gielgud

Sieste – Kei Akahoshi, Jia Zhang, Senri Kou
Pas de Trois – Shiori Kase, Zhanat Atymtayev, Max Westwell
Serenade – Senri Kou
Pas de Cinq – Kei Akahoshi, Guilherme Menezes, Vitor Menezes, Ken Saruhashi, Laurent Liotardo
Cigarette – Elena Glurdjidze
Mazurka – Yonah Acosta
Pas de Deux – Daria Klimentová, Vadim Muntagirov
Flute – Anaïs Chalendard

The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra
Gavin Sutherland – conductor

 

The English National Ballet, founded in 1950 as the London Festival Ballet (so just slightly past its own diamond anniversary) by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin from the touring company they put together the year before, right away found itself a niche in the balletomaniac city amongst the Sadler’s Wells companies (one soon to be the Royal Ballet), then dancing in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre and Covent Garden, and Ballet Rambert, as well as all the foreign companies, the Ballets des Champs Elysées of Boris Kochno and Roland Petit who regularly visited London, and many other visiting companies. No doubt this is thanks in part to the experience and enormous artistic talent of the founders, but they were keen to invite outside talent to create and dance in new works as well as the classics, namely Markova’s version of Giselle, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Don Quixote, Étudesof Harald Lander (featuring as principal Lander’s second wife, Toni Lander) and reviving with Nicholas Beriosoff the early works of Fokine. The new works could be quite experimental and use previously unknown choreographers. The Festival Ballet made a name for itself dancing summer seasons at Royal Festival Hall, and also touring often the UK and to Europe. Markova left the company after a couple of seasons, but, according to Arnold Haskell, they had several very good ballerinas though not a single big star, and many strong male dancers in its first years, having assembled a company of English, Russian and Danish dancers.1 Nowadays, they still have a niche, retaining their summer season, dancing in larger, less conventional concert halls, namely Royal Albert Hall, and touring often (self-evidently) all the world over, and above all in their unique style of dancing and interpreting the classics. The company is extremely diverse, with dancers from many parts of Eurasia, especially the east, and the Americas, from many different schools (though the company does have their own school attached) and this seems to be a major strength.

They dance with a keen sense of drama with a very fine feeling for the gestures on which a ballet turns. They have a special sense for the overarching form and thrust of the choreographer’s idea for each piece they danced, so the build-up of dramatic tension could be gradual, the feelings brought to each movement fitting and those important gestures could fit in in a restrained, even understated way. The dancers tend to give as much attention to their port à bras, which was very plastic, very tactile, as if pushing against the thickness of the atmosphere around them, as their leg- and foot-work, also with a careful attention to line, especially in the groupings at the cadence of a scene. They are extremely absorbing, giving something much more than the display of a Gala performance, despite the over-excited opening night audience.

Apollo, in particular the famous Balanchine version of 1928, is a modern classic from the choreographer’s days with Diaghilev, and his second ballet with Stravinsky’s music (after re-choreographing Le Chant du Rossignol in 1925), and the earliest which has stayed in the repertoire of so many companies, so Apollo marks the beginning of the long collaboration between the two artists; Stravinsky was very critical of the choreography of his ballet music, especially the original Fokine Firebird and Nijinsky Le Sacre du Printemps, perhaps rightfully so since he did grow up in St Petersburg with the Mariinsky, seeing ballets from an early age, but he approved strongly of Balanchine’s choreography for Apollo, mainly for its maturity, restraint and paired-down quality, which seems of one mind with the music. It is one of those short, pithy, somewhat ambiguous, sometimes inscrutable pieces which were the Ballets Russes’ forte, with an extremely simple story, here paired down further by the touring English National Ballet to not even quite a myth, but it is much more than it seems, giving the choreographer and the dancers much room to express their respective arts freely. The English National Ballet’s interpretation is particularly strong and well thought-out. They get well into character from the start. The set is very basic, just a scaffold with steps leading up to the top and the three props for the three muses: writing tablet, mask and lyre, any more might get in the way. The dancers are no doubt used to projecting their movements to the back of large theatres, but on the smallish stage in the small 500-seat theatre they fill the spare setting and seem larger than life to make a convincing Olympus. Vadim Muntagirov seems massive, with his long arms and torso, like the David of Michaelangelo, more so with his generous sweep and grace in the quite unpredictable choreography for his opening solo. When his Muses come in they seem very small at first, he is commanding as he dances with them, or just rests at the side of the stage; one is always aware of this Apollo even when not looking at him when he is not the center of the scenes. Gradually, the dynamic changes, as each Muse dances in turn, she unfolds into her own very distinct personality. We begin to see a somewhat more equitable man-to-woman interaction when Terpsichore dances a pas de deux with Apollo, Daria Klimentová’s almost chewy port à bras show a strong sense of purpose and skimming leaps give a sense of flying, even as her Apollo prefers to support her by the wrists than the hips. The Muses, as they all three dance with him at once, seem then to wear this Apollo down gradually, they seem to have more of the tug of the ensemble on their side, and a slight dominance over the symbolism of the movements and poses. They lead, or rather gently herd Apollo up the scaffold for the apotheosis, in a poignant end.

Anaïa Chalendard in Balanchine and Stravinsky's Apollo. Photo by Laurent Liotard.
Anaïa Chalendard in Balanchine and Stravinsky’s Apollo. Photo by Laurent Liotard.

Trois Gnossiennes, for two dancers and a sole piano, has a strong elegiac feel from Eric Satie’s music and the large, dramatic gestures of the choreography. The sharpness of the choreography, which can also be very full, though, is tempered by the human warmth of Adela Ramírez and Fabian Reimair’s dancing. It is difficult, precise dancing with many fast changes of balance and precarious-looking lifts, which the two made expressive and quite natural-looking, latching onto the choreography’s very clear, unmistakable fundamental human gestures of turning toward and away, folding and extending, but not in an obvious way. They had a strong sense of the music and a close rapport with Kevin Darvas’ very sensitive playing. The heavy black curtain pulled around the three sides of the stage was a bit oppressive here, and in the Manon pas de deux somewhat too, and something more effective could have been done with simple draped fabric here.

The two excerpted pas de deux are the “Bedroom Scene” from Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon and the “Black Swan” grand pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake (the company is alternating this last with the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote as choreographed by Witold Borkowsky after Alexander Gorky’s 1900 reconstruction of the 1869 original by Marius Petipa). Elena Glurdjidze was very much in character as she threw herself into it at her entrance and Arionel Vargas as the young des Grieux too. MacMillan’s choreography is very natural to the music and completely unforced. It contains a million feelings at once in this extraordinary scene, and the pair of dancers understood this, with the strongly detailed and realistic psychologies of their characterizations, dancing as if hanging onto the scene, the night, as tightly as possible, not wanting to let it go. The scene is very short and intense, seeming to open up time around itself. But they dance with delicacy and with attention to detail in the crescendo with the music, so that the whole pas de deux seemed to rise and fall as one breath. Though with only those black curtains and des Grieux’ small writing table and quill, they managed to fill the scene on their own magically, and Glurdjidze used her costume, especially the scolloping pleated skirts of Manon’s night gown, to perfect effect, so they distracted one from those sinister black curtains.

The Petipa grand pas de deux from near the end of Swan Lake is longer with much solo dancing as well, much more physical back and forth to the partners’ interaction, as the nature of their relationship is nutted out and Prince Siegfried is bamboozled into marrying Odile, who has substituted herself for Odette, his true lover, but it is much more complicated than simple persuasion or trickery. The two dancers are full of character. Vadim here is a completely different person as the young Siefried, almost unrecognizable from his timeless Apollo. The orchestra, the local Willoughby Symphony, conducted by English National Ballet’s own principal conductor Gavin Sutherland, was very enthusiastic, fittingly festive for the marriage scene, but too heavy with the rhythm so as to seem rather lurching next to the dancers. Vadim has a light grace which is youthful, with enormous presence. Klimentová has great presence too and a quick, graceful step, a very fluid way of linking the steps, and that extremely expressive and striking port à bras, with a very distinct rhythm to her pirouettes. They both dive full-bloodedly into the shortish but intense excerpt, drawing great energy from one another in their very responsive partnership.

Suite en Blanc, choreographed originally for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1943 by Serge Lifar, though it has no plot as a “one act” neoclassical ballet showing all the combinations and permutations of ballet groupings, it is very satisfying at once intellectually, emotionally and dramatically. As a pure ballet with little set and simple costumes it also has a very definite dramatic arc, it has much to say and says it very economically. The company’s sense of drama and characterization gives a particularly definite shape to it as a piece of theatre, from the the very pregnant opening défilé with their clean lines and weighty broad gestures, filling but not cluttering the stage, which says “we’re going to show you something now.” The diversity of the company, who each have much personality in their individual styles right through the corps de ballets, as seen here, adds to the ballet’s momentum and freshness. The choreography is rarely repetitive and rather contrapuntal with soloists ushered on to the scene with the corps de ballet behind or to the side dancing their own steps. The orchestra seemed more comfortable with the romantic music than the Stravinsky, but really came into their own here with Lalo’s music, playing with enthusiasm and delicacy, expressiveness, while giving room to the dancers. Lalo originally wrote the music in 1881 or 1882 for a two act ballet called Namouna with choreography by Marius Petipa’s brother Lucien Petipa, though it was mainly forgotten, until here Serge Lifar borrowed its music for his less action-filled neo-classical ballet.  In 1967 Peter Wright resurrected the plot as well to create his version of Namouna for the Stuttgart Ballet. “Flute,” the final solo section has Anaïs Chalendard dance with Katrina Kelvin’s flute solo and they showed good rapport for artists who had presumably only recently met, Kelvin giving rubato in just the right places for the dancer while playing like an expressive wood sprite, which suited Chalendard’s springy and unforced dryad style well. The mood, character and interactions of each of the scenes are clear, but quite subtly wrought, from the soft “Sieste” with three women, followed by the faster Pas de Trois for one woman and two men, then the sole woman of the Serenade, followed by the Pas de Cinq with one woman and four men, here in black trousers to break the all-white pattern, and a vaguely Spanish theme, then “Cigarette” an elaborate solo amongst the corps, the Mazurka for a solo man, mostly alone and suitably virtuosic and ecstatic, a Pas de Deux, intricate, almost a grand pas de deux in feeling by virtue of its position in the larger ballet, then “Flute”, finally coming to rest in another défilé, with the curtain falling on the larger grouping. It is a very beautiful, very classical-in-spirit, ballet to balance with the opening Apollo.

The generous program thus crosses the full range of human relationships and our human experience living amongst others, while showing what ballet has been capable of in modern times, with all but the Swan Lake pas de deux (from 1895) created in the 20th century.

  1. Arnold Haskell, Ed., The Ballet Annual, A&C Black Ltd. 1957 and Ballet Decade, A&C Black Ltd. 1956.

About Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.

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