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MIXED BILL

English National Ballet

London Coliseum

4/5

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MIXED BILL

English National Ballet

London Coliseum

English National Ballet’s programme Black And White was the most interesting and rewarding mixed bill I have seen for some considerable time. It ended with a work which I have been agitating to see again this last 30 years.

The evening began with artistic director Wayne Eagling’s Resolution, partly inspired by his love of Mahler’s Ruckert songs and partly because of his experience with the Duchenne charity for young people – mostly male – afflicted with muscular dystrophy.

The five Ruckert songs, powerfully projected by Elizabeth Sikora, are dark and melancholic in mood. They are danced by four couples and an extra man with interplay between the dancers. The fluent, inventive choreography does not attempt literal parallels with the songs but hints at meetings and partings.

The last song, I Am Lost To The World, is the most explicit: two men emerge from darkness to drag, manipulate, balance and lift a third, an obvious reference to the depredations of muscular deterioration.

The Black Swan pas de deux, taken from its climactic context in the third act of Swan Lake, was danced with tremendous style and panache by Erina Takahashi and Dmitri Gruzdyev.

Men Y Men was devised by Eagling as an expressive exercise for nine leading men of the company during a period when the repertoire left them little to do. Set to orchestrations of Rachmaninov Preludes, it is a challenging olympiad which sets them spinning, beating, jumping and lifting each other with tremendous verve and virtuosity.

The one weak item in the programme was Vue De L’autre by company dancer Van Le Ngoc. Performed by five couples to a meandering score by Ludovico Einaudi which sounded like someone improvising at the piano, the dance patterns were equally insipid and should have been left in the choreographic workshop.

Serge Lifar was Diaghilev’s last male protégé who later became director of the Paris Opera Ballet which he dragged into the 20th century. He created Suite En Blanc (previously known as Noir Et Blanc) in 1943 during the height of the Nazi occupation of Paris.

It is a big company display piece, a grand demonstration of the French école classique with accents devised Lifar, and, for many years, I have been urging successive company directors to reinstate it to the repertoire. Now Eagling has done it, lovingly restaged by ex-ballerina Maina Gielgud who was herself coached by Lifar.

Costumed in white, with a black setting of steps and an elevated concourse, the ballet is danced to music extracted from a score originally written by Edouard Lalo for a long-forgotten ballet entitled Namouna.

The ENB company dancers, led by principals Elena Glurdjidze, Takahashi and Gruzdyev, danced with splendid elegance, poise and precision, revitalising a beautiful ballet which is, I believe, the only example of work by Lifar in any British company.

The recent TV series on BBC4, Agony And Ecstasy, charting a year in the life of ENB, absorbing as it was, seemed to emphasise the agony, both physical and financial. This programme redressed the balance, providing ecstasy most of the way.

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