Monday, 1 October 2018

New dance double bill from New English Ballet Theatre & The English Concert

Jenna Lee: The Four Seasons - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
Jenna Lee: The Four Seasons - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
The Four Seasons | Remembrance Max Richter, Handel; Jenna Lee, Wayne Eagling, New English Ballet Theatre; Peacock Theatre Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 September 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A double bill of new ballets showcasing the engaging presence and energy of this young company.

New English Ballet Theatre is a relatively new company, founded in 2012 by artistic director Karen Pilkington-Miksa it is devoted to creating new work in the classical tradition. For its Autumn 2018 tour it presented a double bill of new ballets, The Four Seasons and Remembrance (seen 29 September 2018 at the Peacock Theatre. Jenna Lee's The Four Seasons (which the company premiered in 2017) to Max Richter's recomposition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, and Wayne Eagling's Remembrance to Handel's Ode for St Cecilia's Day performed by The Erebus Ensemble and The English Concert, conductor Harry Bicket, with soloists Fflur Wyn (soprano) and Joshua Ellicott (tenor). The sets for Remembrance were by Nina Kobiashvili, the costumes and lighting for both ballets were by April Dalton and Andrew Ellis respectively. 

Jenna Lee was the choreographer of Alexandra Dariescu's The Nutcracker & I [see my review], Wayne Eagling danced with the Royal Ballet from 1969 to 1991 and was artistic director of English National Ballet from 2005 to 2012.

Whilst the Handel was performed live, Max Richter's score for The Four Seasons was a recording. This is understandable in economic terms, but it would have been intriguing, to say the least, to have the Max Richter performed live by an amplified English Concert and it would have given the ballet the sort of lift that only live music can. These details were not specified in the programme, and it did not credit the recording of the work used.

Richter's music responds to the themes and textures of Vivaldi's original but much of the structure is altered, so solos and ritornellos almost disappear. Jenna Lee's choreography responded to the sheer energy of the piece, plunging straight in with flurries of dancers (it used a company of five couples), rushing on an off with engaging energy. Jenna Lee mirrored Max Richter's music in that there were few formal classical ensembles and the whole had a vividness which matched up-tempo energy (and volume) of the recording. The ballet was, thankfully, abstract, so no maidens scattering leaves in Autumn, but April Dalton's costumes and Andrew Ellis's vividly colourful lighting hinted at an underlying plot.

Jenna Lee: The Four Seasons - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
Jenna Lee: The Four Seasons - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
It was all Hi-NRG of course, there were a number of duets, often angular and striking, but my favourite was the poised and expressive partnership of Christina Gibbs and Dean Rushton in the second movement of Spring.

Wayne Eagling's new ballet Remembrance, based on an original concept by Greg Billingsley, used an episode in the life of Dame Marie Rambert to reflect on the strains of relationships during war-time. It took Rambert and Ashley Dukes from their marriage in 1918 to Dukes' return to the front, Rambert's consequent anxieties and Dukes' eventual safe return after the Armistice.

Whilst the opening scenes set in Serafina Astafieva's dance studio and at Waterloo Station had a biographical feel, much of the ballet was more abstract examining Rambert's feelings with the character imagining a  pas de deux with Dukes, and a very striking scene with grieving widows which took the ballet into a more intense territory. Having dancing soldiers is always tricky, and Eagling wisely kept the choreography to athletics rather than anything more pictorial for the scene at the front.

Wayne Eagling: Remembrance - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
Wayne Eagling: Remembrance - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
Alessia Lugoboni and Alexander Nuttall made a strong leading couple, and Lugoboni was particularly moving in the scenes when Rambert imagined Dukes' death, and the two gave us some highly expressive pas de deux.

Christina Gibbs had real fun with Serafina Astafieva with a cigarette in a long holder straight of our Bronislava Nijinska's ballet Les Biches. Whilst Aitor Viscarolasaga Lopez made an admirable stage dance partner for Rambert.

Handel's quite formal music gave a sense of structure and classicism to the drama, and Eagling responded with some imaginative choreography in classic 20th-century classical style. IT was in the later, more abstract scenes where music and choreography really coalesced into something powerful. Greg Billingsley's adaptation of Handel's score involved the cutting of one recitative (which mentions St Cecilia explicitly) and the re-ordering of the movements so that the tenor's main solos were all grouped together at the beginning.

Under Harry Bicket's discreet direction the performance from The Erebus Ensemble (providing the choir), The English Concert and soloists Joshua Ellicott and Fflur Wyn amply complemented the dance with some lively crisp playing from The English Concert with the trumpets in 'The Trumpet's loud clangour excites us to arms' aptly re-inforcing the martial scenes. The two soloists were placed at the side of the stage and both admirable managed the tricky task of being expressive whilst matching the tempo and style of the dance. The Erebus Ensemble were placed in boxes high above the audience, giving a thrilling sense of being surrounded by the music and making the choruses really fill the auditorium.

Wayne Eagling: Remembrance - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
Wayne Eagling: Remembrance - New English Ballet Theatre (Photo Deborah Jaffe)
The was an admirably imaginative combination of music, dance and theatre which certainly showcased the company's talents. New English Ballet Theatre is a relatively young company with a young cast of dancers whose performances had a freshness and engaging energy throughout, you sense that they enjoyed being there.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Pared down & claustrophobic: La Tragédie de Carmen from Pop-Up Opera  (★★★) - Opera review
  • Vividly theatrical, lyrically sung, but.... - Salome at ENO  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • A forgotten tradition: premiere recordings of two English symphonic works from John Andrews & BBC Concert Orchestra (★★★½) - CD review
  • Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony (★★★½) - CD review
  • Jiri Belohlavek & the Czech Philharmonic in Janacek (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Vital & optimistic: Halle Children's Choir in Jonathan Dove's A Brief History of Creation (★★★½) - CD review
  • Late Romantic: I chat to pianist Margaret Fingerhut  - Interview
  • Decades - songs from 1830-1840, Malcolm Martineau and friends  (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Juditha resurgens: William Vann on reviving Parry's Judith - article
  • Mahler distilled: Iain Farrington and Rozana Madylus in "On Angels' Wings" (★★★½)  - concert review
  • A pastoral delight: Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in its original version from The Mozartists  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • The other Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera's revival of Isouard's Cendrillon (★★★½) - opera review
  • More than just Haydn: cultural revival at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt  - feature
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front at Herbst Gold in Eisenstadt (★★★★★) - concert review 
  •  Home

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