New English Ballet Theatre
Peacock Theatre, London; July 4, 2012
New English Ballet Theatre in Legends. Photo Simon Tompkinson.jpg [ 27.98 KiB | Viewed 1954 times ]
It is not often that one can welcome a brand new ballet company to London, let alone a home-grown one. It's an ambitious company too: self-consciously modelled on Diaghilev, although Vaganova-based rather than continuing the Cecchetti legacy. They also used live music for all but one of the nine works presented this evening.
So, it is in the context of this bold project that one should consider flaws. The evening got off to a rather ropy start with the over-familiar "Classical Symphony" from Prokofiev. Choreographer Jenna Lee chose to illustrate every note with a step and was not assisted by the ghastly green costumes foisted upon the girls; lime leotards with tutu plates (no frills) underlined in red. Very unflattering to the ladies' rears and inhibiting to their movement. The boys fared better in blue unitards.
Michael Corder's "Legends Pas de Deux" provided a welcome pause for breath and was lyrically danced by a graceful Chiaki Korematsu and her partner Ivan Delgado del Rio. They were a well matched couple in this thoughtful work that swapped Corder's usual intricacies for introspection. The costumes were lovely and the choice of Dvorak refreshing.
George Williamson's "Threefold" ably demonstrated why he is such a bright young star in the choreographic firmament. Set for three women and one man, it explores a violent relationship in which each woman dancer a version of herself. Poulenc's "Aubade" unfortunately sounds rather like a Hammer House of Horror score in places and the work was almost scuppered by a dreadful, distracting projection which made following the dancers headache-inducing.
The first half ended with the strange "Lonesome Gun" by Kristen McNally, apparently "an early sketch of a much bigger picture". Neither the purpose of the sketch or the context of the bigger conception were apparent. Choreographed for six women and one man, it seemed to aim at being an evocation of the American West. The women were dressed in bizarre and unflattering black costumes with accompanying hats and the male dancer in a checked shirt and black trousers that owed more to a Monty Python lumberjack than anything that a cowhand might wear. The work itself couldn't decide whether to be comic or tragic and in the end was sadly somewhat embarrassing.
The second half looked as if it would pick up where the first left off with Rebecca Wilson's mercifully brief "Joy", which was anything but. The dancers were decked out in costumes that made them look like a cross between the Woodland Folk and the Famous Five. They cavorted to Mozart which would have been watchable enough were it not accompanied by random vocalisations telling us what a wonderful time they were all having.
Andrew McNicol's "Carnival des Verities" took the second half back up on an upward curve. Alex Rolton gave a worthy rendition of Faure's C minor "Elegy" and was sensibly placed on stage throughout. The projection of arches and a lake tended to overwhelm the dancers at times but notwithstanding, they produced strong, even dancing and sensitive partnering.
Undoubtedly, Wayne Eagling's "Resolution" was the highlight of the evening and the Company rose to the challenge admirably. A powerful piece that inevitably draws comparisons with "Dark Elegies" and "Das Lied von Der Erde", it has some truly breathtaking moments, a high lift that seemed to float into the flies at the end of one movement was glorious. The complexity of the choreography never looked frantic and the dancers worked really well as an ensemble. However, it is the male trio that really triumphs, one dancer being manipulated by his colleagues in an inter-weaving melee that rises and falls and folds and rolls. Lighting and costumes were superb and it was only marred by a large section of the audience who ignored the injunction not to applaud between movements and made it all the more admirable that musicians, singer and dancers alike managed to sustain the magical atmosphere.
Samantha Raine's "Sixes and Sevens" brought us down to earth with a big bump. Choreographically it was pallid, with Eugenia Brezzi and Ludovico di Ubaldo looking uncomfortable throughout. They struggled with partnering and Brezzi almost came off pointe. It was difficult to assess if they were under-rehearsed or just not well matched, but even with a better performance, the piece was slight.
New English Ballet Theatre in Bright Young Things. Photo Simon Tompkinson.jpg [ 36.96 KiB | Viewed 1954 times ]
Ernst Meisner's "Bright Young Things" brought the evening to a jolly close, with black and red costumes and set (echoed in the front of house decorations and dancers bouncing along merrily to more Mozart.
It was brave (and expensive) to opt for live music but the Westminster Festival Orchestra sounded like the scratch ensemble that they are. Strings and woodwind had poor intonation in several places and brass cracked notes. Craig Edwards is a nervy conductor whose considerable body movement would have been less distracting had he not been wearing a white jacket. Piano pieces worked much better on the whole.
This was a creditable London debut that showcased mostly young choreographers and a wide variety of work, even if it did not always succeed in every aspect. The aim is to make this an annual event and it will be interesting to see how the Company matures.