ENB Tour de Force, New Victoria Woking, Tuesday 23 April 2002
It’s a funny old world. Received wisdom would have it that triple bills don’t sell, that new work is difficult to sell, and that abstraction rather than narrative always does badly at the box office in the UK. And there I was yesterday in Woking at a performance by a touring group of English National Ballet in the 1400-seat New Victoria Theatre (same size as Sadlers Wells) which had been sold out for some time, and where all three items were greeted by enthusiasm, including the new work by Patrick Lewis. In contrast to the Royal’s difficulties in putting together well balanced and attractive mixed bills, ENB seem to be very much on a roll at the moment, and busy promoting British choreographers. Cathy Marston’s work features on the other ENB small scale tour, and Christopher Hampson's well-received Double Concerto will feature in ENB’s mixed bill in their brief appearance at Covent Garden in May.
This evening offered a pleasant balance of styles. It opened with Balanchine’s Square Dance, which the company has had in its repertory for some time now: this was followed by the new work Manoeuvres, and concluded by the Grand pas Classique (choreography by Frederick Franklin) – white and gold tutus and classical style to end the evening with a flourish. There was a small orchestra, conducted by Anthony Twiner: a reminder of how much can be achieved with quite modest resources.
Square Dance is a testing experience for its corps of twelve, with lots of bright, sharp footwork, but they came though well, and looked happy and confident. Stylistically they don’t have the ultimate Balanchine tautness and zip, but the steps are delivered cleanly enough for the marvellous structure of the work to be appreciated. The leads were Elisa Celis, a soloist, who looked somewhat stretched and a little uncertain in her balances, but still had a strong sense of commitment, and Jan-Erik Wikstrom. He was warmly received, particularly in his slow, beautifully sculpted solo. I thought the audience reaction here was interesting: in previous visits to Woking I had found the audience reaction rather muted. Here they were much more enthusiastic – and not for obviously virtuoso moments, but for presence and authority.
This was the fourth performance of Manoeuvres by Patrick Lewis. One refreshing aspect of this (in the context of a small scale tour) is that it was set for men only – small scale tours can often include lots of pas de deux, and it was good to see the men have a chance to shine on their own. It also illustrated how the standard of the men’s dancing has been improving at ENB. It was an ambitious piece: the composer Philip Feeney had worked closely with Lewis, and the designs from Anthony MacDonald were particularly striking. As the curtain rises you realise you are gazing upwards into a circus tent, complete with circle of lights and ropes springing from the back of the stage. The men’s costumes were quirky quasi-circus tumblers outfits with curious tattoo-like effects across the shoulders.
As you might expect in this context, this was a fast and highly athletic piece, with a few references to acrobatics – six of the men piling up in a human pyramid, lots of jumping and rolling. But this was still decidedly ballet not dance, with the classic vocabulary very much in use, even if it was augmented by some unusual lifts. Most of it sped by at a frantic pace – if in doubt run across the stage and do another double tour….. Leads in this were Wikstrom again, this time with a more mysterious and detached air about him, even when scything through the most demanding jumps, and the irrepressible Yat Sen Chang. There’s no story, no clowning around, just the fierce exhilaration of performance. The cast worked flat out. I had seen some of Lewis’s work for ENB before, but it must be four or five years ago at least. This seemed to have progressed on very considerably from there – I hope we get to see more from Lewis.
Raymonda is a good choice as a closing item, but this perhaps wasn’t delivered as well as the other pieces (though the audience liked it). Again it is handsomely designed, in white and gold. The men in this item had a few regrettable differences of opinion about timing. Erina Takahashi is still rather lacking in the years of stage experience for the authority that a role like Raymonda really demands, although technically she is a confident and accomplished dancer. Yosvani Ramos is dashing and a real charmer, and the audience really warmed to him. He looks like he enjoys every minute of time on stage. A very enjoyable evening, thoughtfully put together.