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English National Ballet’s She Said review at Sadler’s Wells, London

Tamara Rojo in Broken Wings from She Said at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Tristram Kenton Tamara Rojo in Broken Wings from She Said at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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When English National Ballet’s artistic director Tamara Rojo first commissioned a programme exclusively devoted to female choreographers she was not necessarily making a political statement. Now that the debate about lack of opportunities for female dancemakers has come centre stage, it could not be more timely. This showcase reveals, if nothing else, that female choreographers can be just as erratic and varied as their male counterparts.

The first piece is the best by far. Created by the dream team of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Nancy Meckler – whose A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet was an unmitigated triumph – Broken Wings is the story of Mexican artists Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera. Pulled out of a huge box by Day of the Dead skeletons, Tamara Rojo’s Khalo delivers a flirtatious, ferocious performance as the artist, disabled in a streetcar accident, whose work combined a surreal exoticism with an icon-like representation of damaged women. Her fantastic imagery is everywhere apparent, from the colourful plumage of the costumes to the bleeding sexuality; the transgendering of her female fantasy figures drawn from the natural world is strangely apt. Thrillingly danced by all, including Irek Mukhamedov in a padded suit channelling Gerard Depardieu’s arrogant machismo, it conveys Khalo’s provocative life and visions with the right balance of humour and horror.

Yabin Wang’s M-Dao is an attempt to relocate the Medea story in China, though it is harder to read in performance. Flowing, floating drapes, cool lighting and restless, organic movement are all reflected in a black mirrored floor. After a slow start, the piece wakes up with a pas de trois of urgent, dramatic conflict as Laurretta Summerscales’ Medea attempts to separate Jason from his Young Wife. As she falls prey to demonic forces and horror beckons, it dives into the depths of infanticide. Jocelyn Pook’s oddly constructed score swerves between horror movie cliche and westernised Chinese folk music without ever really settling down.


 Laurretta Summerscales in M-Dao. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Laurretta Summerscales in M-Dao. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Finally, Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings was created through workshops with the dancers and suffers from a lack of clear direction. Murkily lit in sludgey green, it seems to suggest an army of insects or animated vegetable matter as they/it evolve into a new form of being. The uniform green leotards finally give way to hairy, ape-like costumes which are fun to watch but incomprehensible. A giant eye blinks at the proceedings from time to time behind a cascade of falling stars. The rubbery choreography has its moments, especially in one or two well-defined solos and the steadily accumulating group mid way through but it is far too long and impenetrable to sustain interest in spite of Mason Bates’ churning, orchestral music.

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A trio of variable works by female choreographers receives a spectacular presentation by ENB’s finest