Sadler’s Wells, London
September 20, 2018
Four years on from its premiere that marked the beginning of the conflict, English National; Ballet’s Lest We Forget returns to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. With choreography from Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan, it’s an evening of striking imagery.
Lest We Forget reflects on the experiences of those who fought in the conflict, and those who stayed behind, none more so that Scarlett’s No Man’s Land, which evokes the tangled destinies of the men fighting in the trenches and the women back home working in munition factories. The ballet is the only one of the triptych that clearly depicts time and place. Scarlett reminds us that the war had costs for those at home. Working in munitions factories was far from safe, the women making the weapons of war that would kill husbands and sons while simultaneously mourning the departure for the front of their own loved ones, and praying for their safe return.
The setting is striking, the choreography and Jon Bausor’s set combining to give a sense of being in two places separated by distance: in the trenches yet with thoughts of loved ones back home never far away. The colour palette is superb too, blue/grey for the women and browns for the men, while Paul Keogan’s yellow smoky lighting more than hints at mustard gas.
Scarlett’s dance is full of good things. The interest never wanes as the seven men and seven women combine is new and different ways. The highlights are the three main duets by Erina Takahashi and Fabian Reimair, Crystal Costa and Aitor Arrieta, and the long final one by Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández that is full of brilliant, dramatic abandon and owes much to Kenneth MacMillan.
Although full of beautiful images, Maliphant’s Second Breath is less grabbing. The first half is given over to the ensemble of 20, dancers constantly falling to the ground or climbing onto the shoulders of others before falling and being caught. Done to recordings of survivors mixed with the live orchestra, it is initially terribly effective in evoking ‘going over the top’ only to meet almost instant death, and communicating what must have seemed like the never-ending round of killing, but it does go on for a very long time. Cojocaru and Junor Souza’s closing duet is truly pleasing, but could almost be about anything, anywhere.
Akram Khan’s Dust is more dramatic. It opens with a lone man flinching violently, his body full of spasms. That pain, those shudders and jerks are soon imitated more smoothly by a chain of dancers whose linked arms ripple smoothly. Whether it’s a deliberate nod to the similar motif used by Igor Moiseyev is unclear.
Sitting on that uncertain line between East and West, Khan’s fusion classical kathak and Western contemporary dance, and Jocelyn Pook’s percussive score combine in a protest against war, but especially its impact on the emotions. Like with Scarlett’s ballet, women play an important role and the highlight comes at the end in an incredibly powerful, draining pas de deux for Tamara Rojo and James Streeter.
To say thank you to the First World War generation, English National Ballet has gifted The Royal British Legion a performance of Lest We Forget. The special performance on Monday 24 September at Sadler’s Wells will be attended by members of serving and veteran communities.
English National Ballet’s Lest We Forget continues at Sadler’s Wells to September 29, 2018. Visit /www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.