BWW Review: English National Ballet's VOICES OF AMERICA, Sadler's Wells
Emerging from a winter of traditional crowd-pleasers featuring Nutcracker and La Sylphide, the dancers of English National Ballet were finally allowed to cut loose in this new mixed bill - thanks to some eerie swamp monsters and a new and unexpected club banger from William Forsythe. This certainly ain't the Kingdom of Sweets anymore.
The aforementioned Forsythe world premiere, Playlist (Track 1, 2), is left tantalisingly to the end of this American-inspired programme. It's worth the wait though as 12 of ENB's fine male dancers dominate the stage with sky-high leaps and perfectly stretched feet set to Peven Everett's Surely Shorty.
It's a spirited and slick performance and an impressive party piece full of moves that have the audience cheering and whooping aplenty. The American flavour is hinted at in the costuming (designed by Forsythe himself), with the dancer's plain burgundy shirts emblazoned with their names on the back as if they were an elite sports team.
The score later switches to Lion Babe's Impossible and the testosterone cup runneth over as the dancers tear up the stage and show off with an exhibition of spins and pirouettes that culminates with the audience on their feet. It's a fine celebration and a neat way to put recent reports of unhappiness within the company to bed.
The remaining programme is peppered with dance highlights that leave viewers in no doubt of the abundant talent on offer. Forsythe's other contribution to the evening, Approximate Sonata 2016, was headlined by the return of lead Principal Alina Cojocaru and features a series of sharp pas de deux. Cojocaru's sweet and serene nature might seem at odds with Forsythe angular, powerful choreography, but her chemistry with partner Joseph Caley is ever engaging.
Tiffany Hedman is a fine Forsythe dancer - the scratchy score that accompanies her and James Streeter's segment bearing more than a passing resemblance to In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, which she previously excelled in - and there is no change now. Hedman's feral attack combined with her pinpoint precision and clean extension is wonderful to see.
Jerome Robbins' name speaks for itself, but many will be unfamiliar with 1951 work The Cage. It tells the story of an imposing colony of 12 insects and their queen, who gives birth to a new member, the Novice (Jurgita Dronina), who is taught to kill all male interceptors, but of course she falls in love with one (James Streeter).
However, she's soon put firmly back on mission by her sisters and pleasingly disposes of him - in her own elegant but deadly way. Dronina's beautifully flowing movements contrast nicely with the sharpness and elasticity of Begona Cao's Queen in this satisfying tale.
It was pleasing to see a story ballet included set to a classical score, Stravinsky's Concerto in D in this case. The strong corps of 12 have been tightly rehearsed, and the wild hair and exaggerated stage make-up is a welcome contrast to Forsythe's minimal taste.
That leaves only Aszure Barton's Fantastic Beings, first seen in 2016 as part of the She Said triple bill of all-female choreographers. I distinctly remember last time around after a lengthy two first works, Fantastic Beings was tagged on the end and felt a little trying and directionless after a long evening, but a much improved version works well as the curtain-raiser here. It's now an invigorated work as the dancer slink around in snakeskin lycra leotards, full of joy and an energy as we lap up the interplay between them.
It's an ambiguous but captivating work with glittering stars falling from the sky, later the cast and plagued by bizarre and hairy wookiee-like creatures, and there is Mason Bates's beautiful symphonic score to accompany it all.
Of all the recent ENB mixed bills under Tamara Rojo, this must be the most confident and to my mind the most successful. Such rich talent amongst both the Principals and corps alike makes for a thrilling couple of hours and a great night out.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton