English National Ballet
Modern Masters: Petite Mort, Spring And Fall, In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated
London, Sadler’s Wells
10 March 2015
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
As the opening salvo of ENB’s new partnership with Sadler’s Wells, Modern Masters is a powerful statement of intent. Tamara Rojo’s newly energised company presents itself as ready to take on all manner of challenges – and this mixed bill of work by three of the greatest 20th-century dance innovators is certainly a testing triple to tackle.
Rojo gave her dancers a run at Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort (French for orgasm, and about as subtle as the title suggests) when she first took over the company, but this time round it’s a much more honed performance, with the 12 barefoot dancers (including Rojo for the first time) looking remarkably comfortable within Kylian’s world of highly intricate, ludic eroticism. The boys’ slow phallic fencing swordplay, the girls’ hyperextending on the floor, or gliding around the stage with their ‘dresses’ on wheels, and the series of teasing duets are delivered with just the right mix of stern stylisation and sly playfulness, which all comes together perfectly when strapping Max Westwell partners Rojo for the piece’s, erm, climax.
John Neumeier’s Spring And Fall, to Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, feels much closer to comfortingly classical ballet, with its lushly romantic swoops and joyfully pastoral sense of fauns at play in a woodland glade. Then a dancer will break off a movement with a careless shrug; or couples will assume a ballroom hold, with the women giving a tango flick of the head; or lead Alejandro Virelles will be pushed off stage to make way for the next movement. There’s a lot of punishing difficulty sewn into this piece, which occasionally causes a few problems among the ensemble. But the radiant presence of Alina Cojocaru, a Neumeier muse debuting in this piece and clearly loving it, lifts the performance immeasurably. She is girlish, flirty and bubbly, searching out the tenderness in Neumeier’s choreography at every moment; a charming, expressive centre in a whirl of bucolic play.
From pastoral to law of the jungle for the finale: William Forsythe’s intimidatingly legendary In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, created for the wunderkind of Paris Opera Ballet in 1987, and forever associated with Sylvie Guillem. The crunching electronic score immediately sets everything purposefully off-kilter; what follows is a masterpiece that blows apart classicism with scything force, full of thwarted momentum and cut-off flows that build up a thrilling, bristling energy. In truth, the nine ENB dancers are at the moment more owned by the piece than claiming it for themselves – but there are enough flashes of spiky attitude and panther grace to suggest they could soon get to grips with it fully. There’s certainly no lack of physical skill, just a little bit too much timidity. Cojocaru is transformed here, flinging off six o-clock extensions and slicing glances; Begoña Cao is a revelation, and Junor Souza nails it in a solo performed to the others’ stark (very 1980s) background posturing. It’s tremendous to have the opportunity to see this iconic piece on a London stage again – and what a way for Rojo to make an impact.