English National Ballet’s She Persisted review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘wondrous and rewarding’
When US senator Mitch McConnell admonished fellow senator Elizabeth Warren in 2017, who refused to be silenced, with the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted” he inadvertently handed feminist activists a custom-tailored rallying cry.
Like #MeToo, #ShePersisted went viral and a sarcastic negative was turned into a potent positive. As the title of the follow-up to English National Ballet’s first all-female choreographic programme She Said, it could hardly be bettered. If nothing else, artistic director Tamara Rojo is a marketing genius.
She is also an astute curator of mixed bills and has a sharp eye for talent. The premiere of Stina Quagebeur’s Nora is a case in point. An ENB dancer who has been dabbling in choreography for years, Quagebeur justifies Rojo’s faith in her with a confident debut ballet based on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
Distilling the story of childlike wife Nora and her possessive, condescending husband Torvald down to the bare minimum and adding a chorus of inner voices who hover behind her, it is a model of narrative economy.
The sharp, jutting angles and whiplash gestures are reminiscent of John Cranko’s accelerated storytelling and the impressionistic nature leaves little doubt as to what is going on. When Jeffrey Cirio’s Torvald extends his hand without looking at her it is a totemic gesture of male entitlement: he owns her. As Nora, Crystal Costa moves from nervy childlike glee to emotional maturity as realisation turns to desolation and finally a hard-won self-possession.
The revival of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Frida Kahlo ballet Broken Wings is very welcome, even if Rojo has passed on the title role to Katja Khaniukova. The vibrancy of the design conflicts beautifully with the physical and psychological pain expressed throughout as Kahlo’s powerful and uniquely self-reflexive imagination is explored through metaphor, myth and mutations of the natural world. The return of Irek Mukhamedov as Diego Rivera is a cause for celebration, even if his fat suit is not.
Finally, Le Sacre du Printemps raises the temperature to boiling point as the company delivers Pina Bausch’s primitive, tremulous and orgiastic ritual ballet like born-again pagans. Francesca Velicu, as The Chosen One, goes down fighting like a dervish. A wondrous and rewarding night.
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