BWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET - SHE PERSISTED, Sadler's Wells

BWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET - SHE PERSISTED, Sadler's WellsBWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET - SHE PERSISTED, Sadler's WellsThree years ago, English National Ballet presented an evening of work all by female choreographers, She Said. It was an uneven programme but a brave artistic choice, and those courageous female voices are finally fully realised in the sequel, She Persisted.

Anabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings, based on the life of Frida Kahlo, premiered in 2016 with Artistic Director Tamara Rojo in the principal role. Seen now, the storytelling is now sharpened, in a visually memorable kaleidoscope of colour and design.

Katja Khaniukova debuts as Kahlo, and provides an intensely focused and emotive interpretation in a demanding theatrical role that sees her rarely offstage in the one-hour running time.

As a vibrant and energetic young girl in school uniform, she is carefree as she hops from place to place with youthful abandon. However, she is gradually weighed down the unhappy events which unfold: a toxic relationship with her bumbling husband, Diego (Irek Mukhamedov), who later flaunts his mistress (Alison McWhinney) in front of her, in addition to a cocktail of poor health and a miscarriage.

Although physically small in size, Khaniukova's dancing is weighty and powerful, pushing her body further with every extension and each stretch. As Kahlo continues to suffer, her toes tremble and her arms hang exhausted, committing her all to the performance. She is a a soloist evidently capable of taking on further principal roles.

The ensemble includes a gaggle of male Fridas who fill the stage in vibrant, billowing skirts and face paint, a deer and exotic birds of paradise. The imagery is vivid and engaging, and the central storytelling is heart-wrenching in this confident opening work.

Stina Quagebeur's choreographic debut, Nora - based on Ibsen's A Doll's House - is a neat and lucid addition to the programme, and first soloist Crystal Costa is well chosen for the titular role. Casting includes the physical manifestation of Nora's inner voices, who encourage her to forge her father's signature on a loan to Junor Souza's enigmatic Krogstad, her blackmailer. Costa's naivety evolves into maturity, her dancing transitions from fluid and easy to stiffened with fear as she looks pensively out to the audience.

Jeffrey Cirio is an unstoppable force as Nora's husband, Torvald, turning out explosive whip-fast spins and pirouettes before seething stillness at his wife's stupidity. The story is set to Philip Glass's "Tirol Concerto" soundtrack and designed simply by Louie Whitemore, ensuring each character is eye-catching in bold colours against a subdued backdrop.

After two strong works, the best is still impressively saved for last in Pina Bausch's iconic 1975 The Rite of Spring. It's a demanding and relentless piece, instantly unforgettable with a stage covered in inches of dirt, its terrified teenage maidens who look fragile but fight bravely, and brooding bare-chested men with steely faces - all set to Stravinsky's turbulent score.

In one moment the orchestra stops, and in the stillness, the audience hears only the heavy panting as the the men face off against the women. Close up in the front stalls, its impact and tireless intensity is a potent combination.

Francesca Velicu (who won an Olivier Award for her 2017 portrayal) reprises her role as The Chosen One and remains utterly captivating as she pours every last sinew of energy into her fight to stay alive. She is sincere, scared and wrought with anxiety in a dance till death.

The company's faultless commitment to Bausch's work - the harrowed faces and looks of terror - never breaks. You won't see another group of dancers more fully immersed in their purpose, and the result leaves you breathless.

She Persisted runs at Sadler's Wells until 13 April



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From This Author Vikki Jane Vile

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