Seventy years ago, British ballet stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, along with impresario Julian Braunsweg, set up the company that would become English National Ballet.
Under director Tamara Rojo, ENB has emerged stronger and bolder, and is now in prime position to celebrate this significant birthday with a cracking gala performance of repertory past and present.
There are choreographic curios from decades gone by, such as Antonio Ruiz Soler’s Three-Cornered Hat – danced by guest Sergio Bernal with the scuttling dexterity of an insouciant scarab beetle – as well as an extract from Christopher Bruce’s vaudeville-styled prison psychodrama Swansong. The synth soundtrack might date it, but it’s imbued with verve.
The company’s men get a chance to let rip with William Forsythe’s recent hit Playlist (Track 2): a bass-thumping bravura extravaganza that revels in virile display and virtuosic possibility. Pristine classicism gets an outing with a precisely danced account of Kenneth MacMillan’s Jewels divertissement from his production of The Sleeping Beauty (still in the company’s rep).
Elsewhere, homage is paid to Akram Khan’s major choreographic contributions, with fleet but thrilling excerpts from 2014’s Dust and 2016’s Giselle. Rojo brings superb vitality to two pas de deux: first as a fizzingly mercurial Frida Kahlo in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, then as the crop-haired seductress in Roland Petit’s crude but effective Carmen.
Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza slide and sizzle at the barre in Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes, while Harald Lander’s Études – another ballet about ballet, from studio to stage – completes the evening with joyful panache.