CriticalDance Forum

English National Ballet 2008-09
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Oct 23, 2008 5:31 pm ]
Post subject:  English National Ballet 2008-09

In The Telegraph, Mark Monahan talks to Principal Dancer Agnes Oaks, who says that the 2008-09 season will be her last:

The Telegraph

Author:  Cassandra [ Fri Oct 24, 2008 7:24 am ]
Post subject:  Manon

ENB opened with their production of Manon in Bristol last night and received an approving review from The Telegraph ... non124.xml

This production is currently touring the UK before coming to London in January, here are the touring details: ... times.html

The Company's AD, Wayne Eagling, was in my opinion the best De Grieux bar none. Not sure if he is coaching the dancers on this occasion, but as the RB's production of Manon has grown rather stale over the years, perhaps more enjoyment of this work may come from ENB. If I can manage to get to one of the performances on tour I'll report back as I've already arranged to spend the first half of January in sunnier climes so will have to miss the coliseum performances.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Dec 08, 2008 3:27 pm ]
Post subject: 

Reviews of ENB's performance of Kenneth MacMillan's "The Sleeping Beauty" at The Coliseum.

Zoe Anderson in The Independent:

The Independent

Donald Hutera in The Times:

The Times

Author:  David [ Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:40 am ]
Post subject:  Manon

English National Ballet
London Coliseum; January 2, 2009

English National Ballet’s staging of Kenneth MacMillan’s sweeping story of the rise and fall of Manon, an 18th-century Parisian courtesan, has given long-time principal dancers Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks the chance to take time away from the company’s regular diet of the classics, and get their teeth into something rather more down to earth.

Towards the end of 2008, Oaks surprised everyone with the announcement that this was to be her last season. Like Edur, she has always been known as a classicist. The prime reason she has given for retiring is that she is now 38, and has danced enough “Swan Lakes” and “Sleeping Beauties”. Fairy-tale princesses are one thing, Manon is something else entirely. Here, at last, is a role and a character with plenty of depth and scope for her to mould and truly make her own.

As ever, Oaks was technically assured but what made her performance special was the way she showed us all Manon’s guile and sexuality. She gave us a character we could really believe in. She was clearly enjoying herself playing the innocent leading the men on and enjoying being seduced. But equally she never let us forget that she was also supremely confident, and fully in command of everyone and everything - at least until her denouement in the swamp.

Edur, on the other hand, was somewhat disappointing as Des Grieux. He has always been one of that rare breed of male dancers who can put some believability into the princely roles of the classics. His partnering with Oaks in MacMillan’s complex and intimate pas de deux was as secure as ever, but as a soloist he seemed uncomfortable with MacMillan’s choreography and unsure in the role. It was an oddly cold portrayal, with his feelings for Manon, and any sense of rejection, often strangely hidden.

Elsewhere, the rest of the company did Deborah MacMillan and Artistic Director Wayne Eagling proud. Dmitri Gruzdyev gave an assured and appropriately seedy performance as Manon’s corrupt brother Lescaut. Anthony Dowson was a nicely nasty Monsieur GM.

While “Manon” has been a stalwart of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire since its premiere in 1974, as primarily a touring company, English National Ballet is at last giving other parts of the country the chance to see the work. That they are able to do so is due largely to their use of Mia Stensgaard’s minimalist yet stylish designs, originally created for The Royal Danish Ballet. Although the set may be a little grey and bare for some, especially when compared to The Royal Ballet’s rather more elaborate and colourful Georgiadis production, it still engenders plenty of atmosphere. The lack of clutter adds to the sense of space, especially in the final scene in the Louisiana swamps, depicted so simply yet so effectively by nothing more than a mist. And most importantly, it helps highlight the intricacies of MacMillan’s choreography and ensures the action, and there is plenty of it, doesn’t get lost.

Although the set clearly indicates a time and place, Stensgaard has allowed herself rather more latitude with her costumes, which have a more timeless feel. Many of the women’s dresses appear rather more modern than one might expect. As with the set, blacks and greys are to the fore, the big exception being the Act II party, where for once, she really lets rip with a series of dazzling colours.

The Orchestra of the English National Ballet was conducted by Timothy Carey.

This review will subsequently appear (with photos) in the magazine.

“Manon” can be seen in 2009 at the New Theatre, Oxford (April 21-25, the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (April 28-May 2), and at Parma and Modena in Italy (May 9-14).

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Feb 02, 2009 2:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

In The Independent, Jenny Gilbert reviews the Farewell Gala for Agnes Oaks at Sadler's Wells on Friday, January 30, 2009:

The Independent

Author:  David [ Sun Mar 08, 2009 8:28 pm ]
Post subject: 

English National Ballet
'Alice in Wonderland'
Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Culture Centre; March 5, 2009.

English National Ballet’s production of “Alice”, first seen in 1995, certainly brings Lewis Carroll’s characters to life. They are all here, the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, and many more, brought to life through Derek Deane’s choreography, Paul Kieve’s illusions, and Sue Blaine’s outstanding costumes based on the Tenniel pictures in the original book.

The ballet is visually very appealing. The sets too are mostly quite superb. Best of all is that for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which includes giant sunflowers, outsize ears of corn, and an enormous teapot that pours tea on its own. This makes it all the more odd that the scene where Alice follows the White Rabbit down his rabbit hole is so poorly done with a plethora of panels flying in and out.

As befits a family ballet, comedy is to the fore with any darkness in the Carroll story downplayed to the extent that it almost disappears altogether. With many of the costumes including full face masks, the dancers did a sterling job communicating that humour. Petro Lapetra’s White Rabbit was particularly delightful, fussy, playful, and in constant motion. Other notable mentions must go to James Streeter’s Mad Hatter; Laurent Liotardo’s drugged-up, hookah- smoking Caterpillar; and Michael Coleman’s hectoring, gossiping Duchess, who owed much to Ashton’s Ugly Sisters.

Fernanda Oliveira was very childlike as Alice, but there was a little too much smiling, each character she met being greeted and treated in pretty much the same manner. There was, for example, absolutely no suggestion of her being upset by the Duchess’ rough treatment of the pig, or being frightened by the Queen of Hearts. But there again, while Jenna Lee’s Queen may have been glamorous, scary was not a description that sprang to mind.

Like the book, the ballet is episodic, but Deane does well to merge each scene with the next. He has taken some liberties and has invented some set pieces for the corps, the first of which, for two tiger lilies and a group of pansies (yes, really!) in the Garden of Living Flowers is totally extraneous to the narrative. This could be one of several references to The Nutcracker, although the others are rather more explicit. The transformation scene, and the music that accompanies it, bears a striking resemblance to the one in that ballet, with the White Rabbit taking the same guiding role as Drosselmeyer. The Caterpillar’s solo, meanwhile, is danced to a parody of the Arabian Dance.

It is just as well Deane has invented those set pieces, since, while there is plenty of action, the biggest issue with the ballet is the lack of dancing. What dancing there is draws on a wide range of styles. The classical set piece for the Living Flowers is distinctly ‘after Petipa’, while the group dance for the Hearts has a much more modern feel. The pas de deux for the Dream Alice and the Knave of Hearts, is rather romantic in style and never reaches any sort of climax.

Carl Davis’ collage of multiple excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Album for the Young”, along with selections from others of his pieces, also works remarkably well. Such a score does, though, mean there is an absence of leitmotifs for the principal characters. Davis’ choice of composer also left one wondering whether it really was impossible to find suitable music by an English composer for what is essentially a very English ballet.

But when we get down to it, do all these issues matter? From the reaction of the Hong Kong audience, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. “Alice” is not deeply meaningful and was never meant to be. It is good old fashioned light entertainment for the whole family, well-presented and well-performed. It pretends to be nothing else. And who could argue with that?

The Hong Kong Sinfonietta, conducted by Timothy Carey, gave an excellent rendition of Carl Davis’ patchwork Tchaikovsky.

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