English National Ballet
Choreographics 2015: A Touch for Eternity, Memory of What Could Have Been, Give My Love to The Sunrise, traumA, Fractured Memory, A Room in New York
London, Lilian Baylis Studio
19 June 2015
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan
Of the three Choreographics evenings to date I thought this was the best, with all the pieces feeling buffed-up, thought about and nobody making a huge wrong turn. Choreographics has its roots back in company choreographic evenings, which in English National Ballet’s case were often not open to the public. Things move on and Tamara Rojo (ENB director) has committed money to the process so that Kerry Nicholls could be a mentor for those involved and, this year, Russell Maliphant also came in to offer advice. They also get serious lighting design and costume support. Dropped from the earlier approach is the idea of having to work with a (usually young) composer. I’m very pleased that’s gone: for many it’s a complexity and an unknown they just don’t need. Another change was having two ‘outsiders’ as part of the show, introducing new and different blood, with considerable experience too, and that showed on the night. The Royal Ballet do the same thing with their Draft Works series. It does mean that Choreographics now has a huge span from first-time dancers trying their hand through to name choreographers. It makes for an interesting and diverse evening but it feels as if Choreographics is heading towards being a night/project for those who show (great) promise or are known to be capable and need more exposure. For outright novices, not even sure if they can put steps together, I think there is still room for a night without support at which you rock up with your dancing mates and just show your ideas. It will be interesting to see how it moves forward: George Williamson, the ENB Associate Artist, has directed the show these last 3 years and I gather is moving on from ENB.
The theme of this year’s show was post war America, but before the 6 pieces were presented, the ENB School choreographic competition winner, Joshua Legge, presented his Babel, a confident piece about language barriers to an urgent electronic soundtrack. James Streeter was first up with A Touch for Eternity about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death in 1951. His piece was about their final meeting in prison. Max Richter’s November opens with the sound of rain and wind and is appropriately doleful. Clever lighting shows 2 cells, their spiritual togetherness and the traumatic final meeting. Adela Ramirez and Juan Rodriguez gave their considerable emotional all. The steps were confident and effective if they felt rather ‘MacMillan’ generic as Streeter finds his voice.
Stina Quagebeur, who closed out the evening with A Room in New York, was also working with a back story of a couple under huge pressure – the relationship between Edward Hopper and his wife, Josephine. You look at Hopper’s fascinating paintings, realise that all is not well and, my goodness, they had a love-hate relationship that Quagebeur really brought out with incredibly swift and violent movement, later morphing to rapprochement as the Scriabin piano turned almost to a soft lullaby. Crystal Costa and James Forbat excelled and Quagebeur’s voice is shaping up very nicely, one thought – the best piece of the ones from ENB dancers.
Max Westwell was making his choreographic debut with Fractured Memory – a look at relationships as if at a drive-through cinema. For 3 couples, each are put under the microscope to either Olafur Arnalds or Max Richter – which provides aural gravitas. We seem to get 3 takes on love: pensive, combative and deeply felt. The movement was classically conventional, the duets of story ballets, and it’s a fine and sensible place for Westwell to start because it looks good.
Fabian Reimair’s piece, traumA, was the most overtly theatrical work, about a woman whose husband has not returned – from the war we assume. The husband is played/danced by 3 men, each rigidly under their own spotlight for a while before one emerges to dance with her one more time. More combative and urgent partnering here, but it felt usefully freer and more original in tone. The crackling music of Valgeir Sigurdsson / Volker Bertelmann and the printed t-shirts suggestive of ghostly soldiers added an extra dimension, though I wasn’t so sure of the picture frame props, or the silly lower/uppercase play in the title.
Renato Paroni de Castro, who first choreographed at The Place in 2001, was the first of the non-ENB choreographers. If Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free feels like the happy lot of sailors and girls in war then Memory of What Could Have Been, felt like the painful reality. Two brothers in the Navy (Vitor Menezes and Guilherme Menezes) court a girl (Sarah Kundi); she marries one, the men go off to war and only the brother-in-law returns to her. I liked the open sweep of Castro’s choreography, which I fancied picked up on Robbins at times, and willowy Sarah Kundi mixes strong elegant movement with full dramatic chops. Nice music choices with Clifton Williams for the carefree courting and Frank Martin for the despair. All up, a confident package, if the end seemed rather perfunctory.
I’ve been following Morgann Runacre-Temple ever since 2003 when she was in training at Central School of Ballet and did a blog for Balletco about her final year. She’s now well known for creating a number of full-evening narrative works for Ballet Ireland and much elsewhere, which probably means she has had more practical experience than most involved in Choreographics, bar Maliphant. And my goodness it showed in Give My Love to The Sunrise which picked up on a 1947 Orson Wells film and drew out the interactions of a femme fatale and a doomed hero with a questionable past. It starts with dialogue from the film with the two protagonists, in period costumes, stationary as if in an Edward Hopper painting – what goes on here, you think. The movement is beautifully differentiated with her cool blond, hauteur slowly allowing more until they circle the room in a hot and edgy duet – not smutty but my goodness it smoulders. Strong acting and committed dancing from Tiffany Hedman and Daniel Kraus added much, but what elevated it even higher is the commissioned score from Laura Stevens – a sparse, almost Japanese-inspired affair, with strong piano base notes as they stalk one another, later becoming more electronic and urgent with the heat of bodies tangling. I hope Stevens and Runacre-Temple work together more – electric, rather like the ending as the dancers return to the Hopper moment of the start.