Ballet at the Royal Festival Hall

S ummer has come to the Royal Festival Hall (if not to the weather): the orchestras have moved out to the Promenade Concerts and the touring companies have moved in. This week sees two programmes from the English National Ballet, yesterday evening being the first.

Oddly enough I studied the music used for the first ballet - Bach's Keyboard Concerto no. 1 in D minor - for 'O' level music, fifty years ago (though I remember precious little of whatever I learned about it then). Played here on a modern piano, of course, rather than the harpsichord Bach would have expected, it's a lively and elegant work whose rhythms and counterpoint lend themselves well to dance. The title, 'A Million Kisses on My Skin', is pretty well meaningless: David Dawson's choreography combines classical and more modern ballet movements as six women and three men dance in various combinations on a plain white floor in a black surround, mostly backlit. The ensembles are not danced in unison, rather with similar goups of movements of one couple often following a bar or so behind another pair and then diverging - sometimes reflecting the counterpoint but sometimes descending into a slight muddle. It was danced with style and elegance, though occasionally I did feel that the dancers were trying to inject an emotional resonance into what was essentially abstract dance. The principals included Asta Bazeviciute, Laura Bruña, Elena Glurdjidze and Fernando Bufala.

The second item was the premiere of a ballet by the company's Artistic Director, Wayne Eagling (I saw him as a Royal Ballet principal many times in the 1970s). Titled 'Resolution' and set to Mahler's sombre set of five short songs, the Ruckert Lieder, it was created for the Duchenne charity dealing with the most severe form of Muscular Dystrophy. On a bare stage lit with patterned overhead lighting couples dance quietly, the women seeming vulnerable in the lifts. Sadness pervades the choreography as the projected patterns change and mists form (though a loud hiss from the mist generator did nothing for the amosphere - that needs seeing to). The final dance is stark, the patterns gone, as two men assist a third who seems unable to move on his own, holding him, moving his inert legs, and supporting him in lifts and reaching out movements: at the end they withdraw, leaving him bowed and despairing alone on the floor. Moving and compassionate without sentimentality, it's a ballet which deserves to enter the repertoire. The dancers included Bergoña Cao, Fernanda Oliveira, Mehdi Angot and Zhanat Atymtayev.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) wrote a series of studies designed to make the scales and arpeggios which are a necessary (but boring) part of a pianist's training: in an orchestrated version some of these form the score for 'Etudes', choreographed by Harold Lander in 1948, which begins with the simple five foot positions which are lesson one (and which always gets a round of applause) and introduces the various building blocks of classical choreography - barre exercises, arabesques, lifts, spins, jumps and leaps - first in simple form and gradually getting more and more spectacular. It's always a popular show-off ballet, and the English National Ballet have made it their own, dancing with a skill, precision and exuberance which does it full justice. the principal dancers were Elena Glurdjidze (with a stunning accelerating spin from gentle to alarmingly fast), César Morales, and Zdenek Konvolina (replacing at very short notice Fernando Bufala who, it was announced, had injured himself).

The English National Ballet demonstrated in the whole evening that it's in the first order of companies, despite the RFH's makeshift stage and the limitations of any touring company: they have dates coming up in Oxford, Bristol, Southampton and Manchester, and return to London at Christmas.

Posted: Thu - July 3, 2008 at 09:20 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM