It hasn’t been a good time for English National Ballet. Following a year of touring with the dreary Strictly Gershwin, savage funding cuts and the departure of MD Craig Hassall and the imminent exit of artistic director Wayne Eagling, the company faces an uncertain future.
A scene from Beyond Ballets Russes at the London Coliseum Photo: Tristram Kenton
How pleasing it is then to discover that its spirit of challenging innovation and is undiminished. In the first of two programmes celebrating the legendary Ballets Russes, ENB proves that while it may be bloodied it is certainly unbowed.
The world premiere of George Williamson’s new take on Stravinsky’s Firebird is a young man’s bold, bravura mission statement. Colourful, sexy and danced with a vivacity that I haven’t seen at ENB for a while, it is a both a tribute to and departure from Fokine’s lurid exotica, with clots of gorgeously clad dancers spinning and turning and disassembling around Ksenia Ovsyanick’s fabulous Firebird. Never mind the meaning, here’s the spectacle.
The juxtaposition of Nijinsky’s L’Apres-midi d’un faune with David Dawson’s 2009 Faun(e) may have seemed like a good idea but the lacklustre performance of the former allows the latter to elbow its way into the spotlight as two men dance for - and against - each other.
No holds barred for the finale. MacMillan’s thunderous version of The Rite of Spring gets an amazing ensemble performance with Kinder Aggugini’s new costume designs suggesting an aboriginal society hell-bent on human sacrifice. MacMillan’s expression of a ritualised collective consciousness is staggeringly realised while Erina Takahashi powerfully conveys the conflicting emotions of naked fear and the undaunted spirit of The Chosen One.
An enthralling evening.