Sadler’s Wells, London
April 12, 2018
English National Ballet’s Made in America programme was a strange fish. Although it had the linking theme: the dynamism and energy of north American dance, the evening was more one of interesting diversity than a unified style. The much-awaited new William Forsythe work, the first created on an English company, Playlist (Track 1, 2), was a bare ten minutes at the end of the evening, but what fun! Think Artifact Suite but substitute J.S.Bach for pounding R&B foot-tapping rhythms. Add twelve of the ENB’s top male dancers in a show of macho prowess with Aaron Robison hitting the heights and a slew of virile competition hot on his heels. If you go expecting ground-breaking you may well be disappointed but the enjoyment value was huge.
It is Forsythe’s Approximate Sonata 2016, that puts the meat on the bone. Consisting of five loosely linked duets, it has the fierce technical challenges we expect from the master: the capricious partnering and sudden reversals, the ballet pose that instantly transforms to off-duty slouch and plenty of attitude. Thom Willems’ sounds offer everything from edgy atmosphere to fireworks and the set has a life of its own as the backdrop has trouble deciding whether to be up or down. The eight dancers each make their mark. Alina Cojocaru proves her premiere status with staccato movements of eye watering clarity executed with blissfully relaxed delivery. Isaac Hernandez finds plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff and James Streeter is always top value. Designer, Stephen Galloway made startling colour choices for the casual dancewear, shiny black leotards for the women and pink/ blue combinations for the men and Precious Adams, impossible to miss in acidic lime trousers. It’s a work that grips the attention and provides constant surprise and delight.
Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings, written for the company in 2016 made an opportune return, the dancers relishing the strange and often bizarre choreography. Barton’s ideas ride happily in tandem with Mason Bates intense score to create a world of extraordinary beings that allow for interesting individual exploration. The dark setting is far from gloomy constantly punctuated by pinpricks of sparkle and bursts of light as the dancers one by one morph into appealing fuzzy creatures for a quirky finish.
Jerome Robbins, The Cage, written in 1951, is enjoying a wave of renewed popularity as a ballet that offers strong roles for women. The cohort of frizzy haired harpies, led by a fiery Begoña Cao, played their part and attacked with venom. Jurgita Dronina, as the Novice, has a sweetness that glows so when her killer instincts come into play the cute bob and appealing smile are particularly chilling. The pas de deux with Streeter, as the intruding Man, shows Robbins at his most inventive and this is a well-made ballet, but the female psychology is disappointingly one-dimensional: all Wilis and no Giselle. The clean gender divide in the third act left the women with the short straw. I wonder if Forsythe could be persuaded to let a female cast have a crack at Playlist (Track 1, 2)?