English National Ballet, Modern Masters

Posted: March 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

English National Ballet, Modern Masters, Sadler’s Wells, March 11

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)

 

The three modern masters represented in English National Ballet (ENB)’s triple bill at Sadler’s Wells — Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier and William Forsythe — are all related in that they learned their trade in John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet before forging their own distinctive styles of classical dance in their respective companies: Kylián in The Hague, Neumeier in Hamburg and Forsythe in Frankfurt. The three works performed this evening are like cousins, having their beginnings in a rich artistic period in Europe within two years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and have since been staged by companies around the world.

Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991) is already in the ENB stable since its acquisition in 2013 but its wit and elegance is worth seeing again. Well, it would be if the wit and elegance were in evidence, but on Wednesday night the elegance is hijacked by a display of overly muscular male torsos swishing fencing foils and the witty eroticism sidelined by their narcissistic posing. The six women, looking decidedly out of scale, don’t stand a chance, not even Tamara Rojo who is positively engulfed in Max Westwell’s physique. Not all the men suffer from this muscular overdevelopment — Junor Souza balances strength with lithe form and he is well suited in his duet with Laurretta Summerscales — but with six of them in nothing but high-waisted trunks the impression of bulk is overwhelming. One of the subtleties of Petite Mort is in Kylian’s use of the parallel qualities of the supple steel foil and the male body; petite mort is, after all, the French euphemism for orgasm and the analogy of death from the thrust of a foil with the little death of the final thrust in love is central to the imagery of the work. The foils haven’t changed since 1991 but the male bodies have; if these studs don’t rein in their weight training their future work with foils will be like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger sewing. Which makes me think of the poor costume department…

What a welcome relief to see Alejandro Virelles and Cesar Corrales in the first act of Neumeier’s Spring and Fall, choreographed to the five movements of Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade in E major. Here are two male dancers whose physique appears to be formed by classical training alone; they both move effortlessly and quietly from the inside, which is a totally different approach from the gym-enhanced school. With its pastel colours and white costumes (Neumeier’s own conception) the setting of Spring and Fall suggests a happy, youthful memory in which an ardent Virelles and a flirtatious but spirited Alina Cojocaru express their burgeoning love against a chorus of friends. Virelles and Cojocaru are beautifully matched in their ease of technique and lack of pretence that comes from the mastery of their art. The choreography is abstract but it is not hard to read. As Neumeier says, ‘As soon as there are two people there is some kind of relationship. And those human relationships are what interest me as a choreographer.’ Apart from the three principals, the supporting cast prove a little ragged, but Anjuli Hudson stands out with her uninhibited enthusiasm.

Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was first choreographed on the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1987 when Rudolph Nureyev was artistic director. Forsythe remembers ‘the whole atmosphere there was electric.’ The first cast included a young Sylvie Guillem, Laurent Hilaire, Isabelle Guérin and Manuel Legris. Imagine those long legs arriving at the height of a percussive climax in Thom Willems’ electronic score and what Forsythe’s elongated, dynamic, off-balance shapes must have looked like. There is also a chic cool in the way the dancers wander in and start their variations, something the French do so well. It is still a thrilling dance to watch with its spatial dynamics and visceral physicality, though Wednesday’s cast is less tall, less elongated than its ideal execution demands: the dynamics of the steps don’t quite match the dynamics of the score. In terms of coolness, Tiffany Hedman seems to have the measure of the work but the same can’t be said about James Streeter, fresh from fencing, who mistakes open-mouthed, brazen posing for cool assurance. It’s that bodybuilding thing again.

 


Sylvie Guillem: 6,000 Miles Away

Posted: July 4th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sylvie Guillem: 6,000 Miles Away

Sylvie Guillem, 6000 Miles Away, Sadler’s Wells, May 21

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's Bye. Photo Lesley Leslie-Spinks

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek’s Bye. Photo Lesley Leslie-Spinks

The evening of dance Sylvie Guillem was putting together in March 2011 might have been called simply ‘Sylvie Guillem and Friends’ if her rehearsals with William Forsythe in London had not coincided with the devastating tsunami that hit Japan. Calling the new program 6000 Miles Away was Guillem’s way of keeping in mind those who were suffering the effects of that environmental disaster (she raised £80,000 for the Red Cross Tsunami appeal at the original 2011 performances at Sadler’s Wells), but the title also neatly ties in with a charity Guillem supports, Sea Shepherd, among whose projects is the protection of whale habitats from the illegal practices of the Japanese whaling fleet. This in turn seems at least 6,000 miles from the playful, ecstatic image of Guillem on the publicity material under the names of three iconic choreographers, Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe and Mats Ek. Welcome to the world of Sylvie Guillem. She serves on the Media and Arts Advisory Board of Sea Shepherd and Sadler’s Wells this time round devoted an evening to fundraise for the charity, presenting a short filmed message from founding skipper Paul Watson, who could have been, yes, 6,000 miles away.

The attraction of the evening is indisputably Guillem herself, but she does not dance in all three works. It seems she commissioned Forsythe and Ek to make works for this program but the duet from Kylián’s 27’52” — in which Guillem does not dance — dates from 2002 and has no direct relation to her. Alistair Spalding’s welcome note in the program simply links the three works by stating that they showcase the work of ‘three creators who have held a special place in Sylvie’s career’ but Sarah Crompton in her article on the making of 6000 Miles Away makes no mention of Kylián at all. This suggests either that plans to commission Kylián to create a work for Guillem came to nothing, or that the duet from 27’52” — danced here by Aurélie Cayla and Lukas Timulak — was an afterthought.

As the curtain rises, Cayla and Timulak are on stage, she in a red top (later removed) and black pants standing in a spotlight and he lying in black pants and stripped to the waist at the edge of the floor. Lit beautifully by Kees Tjebbes, the stage is a clean canvas on which Kylián highlights with quiet precision the beauty of the articulated, semi-naked bodies in movement, something we can expect from him even when he is not at his most inspired. The problem is not with the choreography, nor with the dancing, nor with the score by Dirk Haubrich: the duet just doesn’t fit on the program; without Guillem’s creative involvement, it has an energy and identity at odds with the other two works, and deprives the evening of any unity.

Rearray is a duet of minimal form danced in and out of intermittent lighting conditions (Forsythe’s concept, Rachel Shipp’s realisation) that have an overly dominant role. There are so many blackouts, exits and entrances that the only way we recognize the end is when the dancers don’t come on again. When the lighting gets overly complex, one senses Rearray is a work that uses Guillem to show off Forsythe, but there are other luminous passages when Forsythe is clearly showing off Guillem. Dressed in t-shirt and jeans she performs what appears to be a series of relaxed, impromptu dances but has the ability to create starkly precise and beautiful shapes that seem to imprint themselves in the air. Her partner on this occasion, Massimo Murru, doesn’t have quite the same alchemy, which in a piece where partnering in the old sense is less in demand than an equality of presence keeps the equation one-sided. Forsythe gives him an arresting solo, however, in which his hands appear to be tied behind him, like a puppet unable to escape his own serfdom. David Morrow’s music is not an easy listen, but Forsythe evidently relishes its intricacy and in a lighter moment shares its humour: the fourth section begins as both dancers, facing upstage, simply bend their knees to the rhythm of Morrow’s score, creating a simple, articulated pattern that is both rich and quirky. Forsythe’s mastery of the stage remains undimmed, and it is a real joy to see Guillem responding to his direction even in a work that spends far too much time concealing her.

After the strong taste of Forsythe, Ek’s constant stream of ludic ideas in Bye is as refreshing as a sorbet. Ek, one feels, has put his choreography at the service of the artist, and Guillem returns his devotion in full. Katrin Brännström’s set is like a room with a small door in the back through which we see a black and white projection (thanks to Elias Benxon) of Guillem’s giant, cyclopic eye; the image of her face moves across the doorway/screen to reveal her other eye, then she walks away until she reaches stage size. Returning to peer through the glass, her real hands now appear over the doorframe as extensions of her filmed image. She is pigtailed, dressed in a yellow skirt, a green pullover and bobby socks (costumes by the ever-ingenious Brännström), a long-legged gamine playing games to her heart’s content. Erik Berglund’s lighting picks out both her line and the architectural elements beautifully, and enhances the playful colours of her costume. Ek uses the Arietta movement of Beethoven’s final piano sonata, op 111, shaping the rhythmic content and painting delightfully irreverent images that Guillem plays with her entire body as if on an instrument. Ek seems to derive his vocabulary from an array of sources including classical dance, yoga, everyday gestures and the sculptural forms of Henry Moore. As the sonata becomes more rhythmic and playful, so does Guillem, taking off her cardigan, shoes and socks, improvising as if in her own room like a clown or Raggedy Ann doll with her leg thrown nonchalantly up to her forehead. A man appears at the door looking in and glancing impatiently at his watch. How long will Guillem be? He goes away. She yawns, rolls over, and stands on her head. A virtual labrador comes to the door and sits down patiently, but eventually he, too, moves on. Guillem remains oblivious of time, bouncing to the luscious chords of the sonata with joyful abandon. Ek narrows our focus for a moment to the projected outlines of a bed on which Guillem lies. We concentrate on her hand gestures against the black and her form is like a goddess eating grapes, the pose from the poster. She stands on her head again, watched by a growing number of children at the door but finally puts on her socks and shoes. In the cadenza she dances a little madness before stepping outside and looking back wistfully at the interior world of her colourful imagination that she must regretfully leave to face the black and white reality outside.