ENB Voices of America: in conversation with British Ballet Now and Then

Last weekend Julia, Libby and Rosie went to the closing night of Voices of America at Sadler’s Wells. After discussion and reading reviews of the first night performance, here are our thoughts.

There was a lot of publicity around Forsythe’s new work Playlist (Track 1,2), and the reviews emphasised the strength and skills of the company in their performance of it. What are your thoughts on this?

Over the past few years, it’s become clear to us that the company has been growing in strength and becoming very versatile in adapting to different styles. Rosie has written about this in our recent post The Rise & Rise of ENB: Style Matched by Substance. Therefore, it came as no surprise to us that the dancers were able to show off a lot of tricks and that they also worked cohesively as a group to give the performance its exuberant ambiance.

Libby thought that the dancers’ ability to work as group was particularly evident in the first work Fantastic Beings by Aszure Barton, where there was a collective energy between the dancers which united them. The unison sections evidenced precise movement and impressive timing that didn’t suffer from “over rehearsal” but rather remained fresh and vibrant.

 

Emma Byrne from the Evening Standard refers to Fantastic Beings as a “fantasy fairytale”. Did it strike you like that?

Yes, absolutely! It reminded Julia of watching Disney films as a child with all the stars in the backdrop, the glittery and magical feel in the music, and the black creatures creeping across the stage. For Rosie, in contrast to its first showing as the closing work of She Said in 2016, this worked much better as an opening piece, due to its fragmented, less climatic structure.

In fact, Jann Parry from DanceTabs comments on this saying “there’s no apparent structure, other than one quirky number following another for a different combination of dancers. The music keeps promising dramatic climaxes that come to nothing”.

For us this means that as a whole evening there’s a sense of moving up to a satisfying climax of the final Forsythe piece Playlist (Track 1,2).

So are you saying that these climaxes are partially dependent on the music choices?

We are sure they are. The audience reaction to Playlist (Track 1,2) was particularly interesting. There was already a sense of anticipation because Forsythe had not choreographed for a British company for more than 20 years, and after the premiere an online video of Forsythe himself freestyling with the dancers increased the anticipatory excitement making it palpable in the theatre.

Playlist is beautifully crafted and easily legible in terms of spatial patterning, rhythm, and vocabulary, despite some examples of typical Forsythe deconstruction of classical lines and codified steps. This is Forsythe at his most buoyant. Rosie went to see it twice and found it as delightful the second time around as the first time, but not as intellectually engaging. On both occasions, however, the audience as whole were clearly enthralled from start to finish.

 

Do you think then that the music is as important for the audience as the choreography?

Libby was the first to ask to what extent the audience reaction was dependent on the house and club music in Playlist.Would the work have had the same impact if danced to 19thcentury ballet music, like Le Corsaire for example, we wondered. Or if “Black Swan pas de deux” were danced to Playlist? It made us think of the YouTube clip of the Royal Ballet dancing excerpts of their repertoire to Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out.

As Julia pointed out, basically Forsythe’s vocabulary in Playlist (much more obviously than in Approximate Sonata 2016) is drawn from la danse d’écoleépaulement, tendus, brisés, and pirouettes are central to both Playlist and daily class. But the combination of the music and the way in which Forsythe inflects the movement gives a sexier quality to the classroom steps, like the sensuous skimming sideways courus.

For Rosie, the music scores were striking for the whole evening. The subject matter of predatory female insects in Jerome Robbins’ 1951 The Cage seemed oddly juxtaposed to Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for string orchestra, which reminded her too much of Apollo, whereas Sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring) with its ritualistic pounding force would have offered a more fittingly violent soundscape to the choreography, making the kind of fusion that Forsythe created in Playlist.

On the other hand, for Approximate Sonata 2016 Forsythe eschews this type of fusion, highlighting the independent rhythms of the movement.  For us, the complexity of movement, particularly in the duets, is counterbalanced by the bright costumes on the one hand and the understated music on the other. Here the technical challenges are presented in a much subtler and more fascinating way than in Playlist.

 

Three of the works are new to ENB, Barton’s Fantastic Beings is the only one that wasn’t – are there any of these works that you would like to see again? 

Yes, we really appreciated seeing the Forsythe works because there’s restricted opportunity to see his works in this country currently. How about an all-Forsythe evening? ENB already perform In the Middle Somewhat Elevated and it would be a delight to see perhaps the ebullient  The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (1996) or the witty pas de deux from Herman Schmerman (1992).

© Julia Delaney, Libby Costello, Rosie Gerhard

 

References

Byrne, Emma. “ENB – Voices of America review: Fast and furious movement from English National Ballet”. London Evening Standard, 16 Apr. 2018, http://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/enb-voices-of-america-review-fast-and-furious-movement-from-english-national-ballet-a3814641.html. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.

Parry, Jann. “English National Ballet – Voices of America bill – works by Forsythe, Robbins & Barton – London”. DanceTabs, 16 Apr. 2018, http://dancetabs.com/2018/04/english-national-ballet-voices-of-america-bill-works-by-forsythe-robbins-barton-london/. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.

“The Royal Ballet. Not What You Think” YouTube, uploaded 16 Feb. 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-46BZD4zNlk. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.

 

 

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