Constella Ballet and Orchestra
Ballet For Nancy, Adagio, Four On The Floor
London, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells
19 September 2014
George Williamson’s storming rise to the position of ENB associate artist at just 23 suggests a lot of people see much promise in the young choreographer. His Firebird (created when he was 21 and last performed as part of ENB’s World War One commemoration at the Barbican this year) is an impressive work. But this triple bill is a rather underwhelming display of choreographic ability, not helped by awkward staging and a sub-par orchestra.
Ballet For Nancy, created for Nancy Osbaldeston (latterly of ENB, now at the Royal Ballet of Flanders), gives the talented, effervescent dancer a rather muddled narrative thread to follow, set to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Dressed in an Alice-like, golden-yellow lace dress, she switches between carefree, barefoot, child-like exuberance and more anxious pointe-work, all revolving around a red balloon hanging in mid-air to one side of the stage. Williamson doesn’t seem to have thought through a convincing emotional arc for this perky character; instead, she’s left to flirt with the orchestra and conductor Leo Geyer (who take up a good half of the stage space), scamper about energetically and look occasionally perturbed, while flailing her arms about quite a lot. The fact this is watchable is down to Osbaldeston herself, who has an engagingly bright quality and a joyous vim and vigour to her movement. But the whole thing is too long for its flimsy premise.
If you’re going to go for obvious pieces of music as a score for your work, you surely need to a) have come up with a stirring choreographic response, and b) have ensured your musicians are up to playing it. Neither is the case with Adagio. Any reservations you might already have harboured about the orchestra half of Constella are confirmed when they launch into a calamitously clunky rendition of Barber’s Adagio For Strings, which definitively knocks all the searing sentiment out of the piece. Williamson’s pas de deux opens and closes with a striking vision of the woman draped across the man’s back as if crucified – but in between he is uninventive both narratively and choreographically. Again, he’s saved by his dancers: Jia Zhang’s long fluid lines and Max Westwell’s imposing presence and mature partnering are lovely to see – more, please, of both at ENB – although you suspect they didn’t get anywhere near long enough to rehearse the piece.
Much faffing follows, as the musicians are rearranged along the back of the stage, but it doesn’t offer the four dancers in the concluding Four On The Floor an appreciably better space to work in – in fact, a near collision and a nasty slip emphasise how cramped they are. Laurretta Summerscales, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Nathan Young and Vitor Menezes are peppily engaging, if, again, under-rehearsed and make their shifting team dynamics feel fresh and vigorous (even when Williamson’s steps fall into obviousness), allowing themselves to be buoyed by Judd Greenstein’s fast-paced, rather juddery score (again not performed to its best advantage). But you come away from this evening feeling Williamson has used some arresting ENB dance talent to no great avail.