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English National Ballet

Tour de Force: 'Hollywood Smash and Grab,' '2 Human,' 'Side Show,' 'Manoeuvre'

by Lyndsey Winship

April 15, 2003 -- Brighton Theatre Royal, Brighton

The central section of the ENB’s programme in Brighton consists of two pas de deux. Both, incidentally, are danced by real life couples. These stripped down pieces are by far the most enjoyable and effective performances of the evening, showing off the company’s best dancers without any need for gimmicks or flashy staging.

One dancer who gets a real work out is Cuban-born Yat-Sen Chang, appearing in three of the four works. He’s a strong, solid technician with seemingly endless energy but in Kenneth MacMillan’s "Side Show"Chang reveals his comic talents too. The words "comic" and "ballet" are often an odd couple but this one genuinely has the audience roaring with laughter.

An affectionate nod to the caricatures of Victorian music hall, Chang hams it up as a hapless circus strongman with jutting jaw, handlebar moustache and bulging thighs, comically out of step with his pretty, prissy showgirl sidekick, Simone Clark. Their timing is spot on and the routine is more than just slapstick, in fact it’s completely delightful." Side Show" was originally created for Rudolf Nureyev and Lynne Seymour, two hard acts to follow, but Chang and Clarke really make it their own.

The Estonian couple Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks are a complete contrast. Oaks cuts a glacial figure, intense and aloof with lean long limbs, more stork than swan. In "2 Human" she dominates Wayne McGregor’s choreography with her jack-knife extensions and precision poise, ruling the partnership with Edur -- lifting like a feather one moment, a dead weight the next.

Edur is more erratic. One of his solo passages verges on the insane, jerking in straightjacketed jumps he could be pogo-ing at a punk gig. Appropriately, the costumes could be Vivienne Westwood circa 1979, but while McGregor adds his anarchist edge to this evening’s programme thankfully he achieves more than empty sloganeering. Setting the piece to Bach’s Partita in D minor for violin is an inspired choice. Note to choreographers: dance to Bach and you’ll never go wrong.

Unfortunately, the rest of the programme is less exciting. The opener, "Hollywood Smash and Grab," is made up of a series of unrelated sections that don’t seem to add up to a whole. There are interesting elements -- a mechanical chorus line, a human timebomb, a theatrical starlet, a section combining pounding dancefloor music with elegant dancers en pointe -- but basically, too many ideas, none of which have a chance to make their point.

Regardless of the material, the dancing itself is good. There’s no questioning technique, especially in "Manoeuvre," a showcase for the company’s male dancers. A combination of ballet and circus moves, this should be a non-stop barrage of big thrills and crowd pleasers. But the tone seems muted somehow. There’s none of the audience involvement or awestruck spectacle of the real circus, nor the narrative, lyricism or direction of ballet. Despite plentiful grand jetes, fouettes, big gestures and bravura, "Manoeuvre" just doesn’t take off until the driving finale. Chang (yes, it’s him again) dishes out his last bout of physical fireworks for the evening but I'm afraid to say, it’s not the greatest show on earth.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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