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Song of the Earth/La Sylphide review at London Coliseum – ‘a rewarding double-bill’

Tamara Rojo in Song of the Earth at London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton Tamara Rojo in Song of the Earth at London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, choreographed in 1965 to Mahler’s revered song cycle, ranks as an early masterpiece. A profound meditation on temporality, loss and acceptance, it’s danced with assurance and sensitivity by English National Ballet, who added the work to their repertoire last year.

Both male and female ensembles capture the choreography’s sculptural stylisation with the restraint it demands. At the centre of it is Tamara Rojo, who lends a fine ferocity to the role of the Woman. With each inflection of the wrist she seems to embroider the air, measuring out time with a blend of rage and resignation.

A more fanciful existential angst underpins La Sylphide, Bournonville’s 1836 Romantic ballet about a young Scottish man, James, lured away from his flesh-and-blood fiancée by a flirtatious forest sprite. Of course, things don’t end well – dainty wings disintegrate and a disgruntled crone takes revenge for some Act 1 rough treatment.

Jurgita Dronina, also a principal at the National Ballet of Canada, makes for an expressive Sylph, demonstrating the fleet footwork, fluttery fingers and softly-angled upper body carriage that’s characteristic of the Danish Bournonville style. As James, Isaac Hernandez shows off compass-point control of the calves through sets of ecstatic beaten steps. Mikael Melbye’s designs are handsome, featuring much misty foliage and bright tartan.

For all its pantomimic silliness, La Sylphide is still an absorbing piece of balletic history – an ode to its own form that also says much about male conceptions of, and anxieties around, female bodies.

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A rewarding double bill that sets MacMillan’s melancholy masterpiece alongside a Romantic classic