The Royal Ballet could learn a lot from English National Ballet about programming mixed bills. This well-balanced selection of works by American choreographers is tied together through themes and variations that complement each other.
All eyes are on the world premiere of William Forsythe’s first ballet made for a British ballet company for 20 years: Playlist (Track 1, 2), teasingly positioned as the final piece of the evening. Twelve men roar on like adrenaline junkies to the electric whump of neo soul and house beats in a mischievous reversal of the traditional female corps de ballet – an all male ensemble of dressed-down Swan Lake swans let loose in a house disco. Bursting with energy and high spirits, this exercise in neo-classical machismo may not be Forsythe’s most challenging work but it is certainly one of his most entertaining and provides a crowd-pleasing climax to a terrific programme.
Forsythe’s other work here is his reworked Approximate Sonata 2016, a series of intense, stripped down duets that focus on the manner in which dancers carve out the air around them while creating a dialogue with their partners. By the end the effortful rasp of breath and verbal exchanges have become part of the fabric of a work that appears to be forging itself before your very eyes.
The wild-haired Amazonian creatures in Jerome Robbins’ semi-anthropomorphic The Cage
seem inspired by Giselle’s man-hunting Wilis and the totemic sacrifice of The Rite of Spring. The newcomer’s initiation into this insect/animal tribe involves luring a man and then killing him. After a practice run-through, she entices her primary victim through sexual guile before scissoring him into submission and finally stamping him to death as if squashing a bug. The wild, ritualistic patterns of the group are sometimes at odds with the melodramatic silent movie gestures of the individuals but it’s potent stuff.
Originally commissioned for ENB’s female choreographer programme She Said, Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings looks like a keeper. The ensemble’s transition from slithery, reptilian creatures into fur-covered sloth-like Wookiees is endlessly intriguing and ultimately exhilarating. The ENB Philharmonic who accompany this piece is on blistering form.