Review: EK/FORSYTHE/QUAGEBEUR, Sadler's Wells

English National Ballet return to Sadler's Wells with a world premiere.

By: Nov. 12, 2022
Review: EK/FORSYTHE/QUAGEBEUR, Sadler's Wells
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Review: EK/FORSYTHE/QUAGEBEUR, Sadler's Wells Time for the annual treat that is an ENB mixed bill at Sadler's Wells, on this occasion featuring a couple of lockdown greatest hits, and a bold new production of The Rite of Spring.

This is a meaty programme of work where many boxes are ticked for an audience: William Forsythe's Black Works I (first seen six months ago) is fun, uplifting and quirky. Dancer turned choreographer Stina Quagebeur revisits Take Five Blues, a creation which first debuted on the small screen in the depths of Covid. Lastly a world premiere, Mats Ek has never worked with English National Ballet before and here he revisits Stravinsky's famous score having first done so in 1984. He was unhappy with the previous result and so is having another go, weaving an emotively charged narrative demanding power and clarity from its leads.

You can just tell these dancers love dancing Forsythe's choreography. Who can blame them, it's smooth, fluid and elegant, while cool, jumpy and original. The soundtrack of vocals from James Blake feels reflective, almost melancholy at times but the choreography is compelling. The dancers, dressed in plain silver-blue leotards, move in and out of intricate patterns in the full ensemble numbers. A flashy flick of the wrist here and hop from foot to foot over there. It's exposing too, no room for iffy alignments or a hair out of place.

Ivana Bueno, Julia Conway and Rhys Antoni Yeoman are step perfect, fine technicians with abundant musicality in Put That Away and Talk to Me. While rising star of the company, Emily Suzuki, together with Junor Souza are heartfelt in a touching pas de deux The Colour in Anything.

New addition to the company, Shunhei Fuchiyama steals attention with an effusive display in Waves Know Shores. Emma Hawes and Aitor Arrieta conclude things in elegant style with f.o.r.e.v.e.r, but Black Works I could be extended for hours and no one would complain.

For those familiar with The Rite of Spring thanks to Pina Bausch, for Mats Ek's new interpretation, there is no earth strewn stage and no chosen one. This is a sterile depiction of arranged marriage. It's a jagged, raw and soullessly told story from the boxy floor length gowns, stark white lighting and angular movements.

The Swedish choreographer chooses a daughter (Emily Suzuki), forced into an arranged marriage by her parents (Erina Takahashi and James Streeter) to a well-meaning but equally fearful bridegroom (Fernando Carratala Coloma) to tell the story. The central pair are youthful and long limbed, exhibiting a Bambi-like innocence as they negotiate the unwavering expectations of society. Suzuki holds the audience well in this Principal role, she possesses an explosive jump while remaining a vulnerable and an engaging protagonist.

There is military-like choreography for the supporting corps who stomp, observe and judge the proceedings accordingly. They are the exemplar of the conformity the bride and groom are grappling with. Enhanced endlessly by Stravinsky's score, it's hard not to be drawn in by the acute sense of drama but the narrative details are not always clear.

Sandwiched between these two headliners is Take Five Blues, Stina Quagebeur's work first seen on stage at 2021's Reunion programme. Nine dancers dressed simply in blue (of course), lit by warm orange globes above take it in turns to shine. It's a little chaotic with the comings and goings of different clusters of dancers, with one occasionally stopping to pirouette and move on, but also fluid. There's playful interactions between the mix, Julia Conway dancing with particular attack and confidence and Angela Wood shines with charisma when allowed to take centre stage.

As ever, it's another ENB programme which flies by and leaves with much that will still linger in the mind. This is the final bill for which Tamara Rojo will be named as Artistic Director, and with the company in this form, she leaves a legacy to be proud of.

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton