English National Ballet announces plans for 2021-2022 season

David Mead

Looking forwards with hope and optimism, and no doubt fingers firmly crossed, English National Ballet has announced its plans for the 2021-2022 season, including two world premiere full-length ballets, news of the renaming of its London City Island home, and that Maria Kochetkova is returning to the company. UK touring will remain on hold, however.

The season includes new dates for the much delayed world premiere of Raymonda by ENB Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, which will be performed at the London Coliseum from January 13-23, 2022. Marking her choreographic and directing debut, Rojo has adapted the rarely performed in full work, resetting the story during the Crimean War and drawing inspiration from the spirit and ground-breaking work of the women supporting the war effort, including Florence Nightingale. Raymonda herself is recast as a young woman with a calling to become a nurse.

Rojo says, “It continues to be a part of my vision for English National Ballet to look at classics with fresh eyes, to make them relevant, find new contexts, amplify new voices and ultimately evolve the art form. I have truly enjoyed delving into the creative process of adapting and choreographing a large-scale ballet.

Tamara RojoPhoto Karolina Kuras
Tamara Rojo
Photo Karolina Kuras

Raymonda is a beautiful ballet – extraordinary music, exquisite and intricate original choreography – with a female lead who I felt deserved more of a voice, more agency in her own story. Working with my incredible creative team, I have set Raymonda in a new historical context, adapting the narrative in order to bring something unique, relevant and inspiring to our audiences.

“This story is about many themes; duty, war, patriotism, culture, but at its centre are the nurse characters – inspired by Florence Nightingale’s vision, drive and passion. Reflecting on the last year, we have seen how nurses, and many others in the medical sector, sacrifice so much to take care of other people and I hope this, in some small way, pays homage to them.”

Raymonda is a co-production with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet.

As previously announced, the equally delayed and much-anticipated premiere of Creature by Akram Khan will now take place at Sadler’s Wells from September 23-October 2, 2021. It’s international premiere at Chicago’s Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater will now be in February 2022.

A co-Production with Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (better known in Britain under its former Royal Ballet of Flanders name), Creature is an unearthly tale of exploitation and human frontiers inspired by Georg Büchner’s expressionist classic Woyzeck, with shadows of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Drawing on themes of abandonment, isolation and the fragility of the mind, it tells of an outsider and the search for belonging.

Aitor Arrieta and Isaac Hernandez in rehearsal for Creature by Akram KhanPhoto Laurent Liotardo
Aitor Arrieta and Isaac Hernandez
in rehearsal for Creature by Akram Khan
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Akram Khan says, “The COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK just weeks before Creature was due to premiere in London last April and the final stages of our creation and rehearsal process were brought to an abrupt halt as the country went into lockdown. On returning to the studio, I’ve brought the experiences of the last year with me, drawing on themes of isolation, mental health, and patriarchal systems…and within that, I am exploring our very destructive nature of wanting to control everything…man-made systems, nature, animals, fellow humans, our future, and even our past…we want to control it all. And what I am realising is that you can’t control a living thing, without destroying what’s alive about them.”

Having not been able to present a live Nutcracker for the first time in its history in 2020, Wayne Eagling’s production of the festive ballet returns to the London Coliseum for Christmas 2021 (16 December 2021 – 08 January 2022).

Performances of THE FORSYTHE EVENING will now take place at Sadler’s Wells from March 31-April 10, 2022. The Company’s relationship with the revered American choreographer continues with a triple bill that comprises the UK premiere of Blake Works I, featuring the music of James Blake’s album, The Colour in Anything; alongside Approximate Sonata 2016, a series of deconstructed pas de deux first performed by ENB in 2018; and an extended version of Playlist (Track 1, 2), Playlist (EP).

Precious Adams and Aaron Robisonin Approximate Sonata by William ForsythePhoto Laurent Liotardo
Precious Adams and Aaron Robison
in Approximate Sonata by William Forsythe
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Tamara Rojo says, “William Forsythe is a genius of 20th century choreography. This triple bill exemplifies his ability to present classical vocabulary in a modern context in a way that speaks to audiences of all ages. In Approximate Sonata 2016 we see an intimate exploration of the relationships between women and men; Blake Works I is one of the most beautiful ballets I have seen in a long time; and I am thrilled we will see the Company return to Playlist with its combination of Forsythe’s unique choreographic style and exhilarating pop music – it’s an onstage party which is a complete joy to witness.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ENB has taken dance to audiences through ENB at Home. The dedicated on-demand digital platform has given people all over the world the opportunity to rent full-length ballets and documentaries through Ballet on Demand and engage in a wide range of ballet-based fitness classes through BalletActive. Good news for those not able to get to performances in person is that the company will continue to offer digital access to its work.

Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, ENB’s UK autumn tour and My First Ballet tour will not take place in 2021. It is hoped a return to touring will be possible in 2022.

English National Ballet’s new home to be named Mulryan Centre for Dance

Also announced is that ENB’s new London City Island home is to be renamed Mulryan Centre for Dance, after the family of one of its major supporters, Sean Mulryan, Chairman and Group Chief Executive of major developer Ballymore.

English National Ballet' s London City Island homePhoto Ian Gavan
English National Ballet’ s London City Island home
Photo Ian Gavan

Rojo says, “On behalf of all of us at English National Ballet I want to thank Sean Mulryan and his family for this incredible generosity. This building has transformed the way we work, providing us with the scale and versatility to be more creative and ambitious than ever before.”

Mulryan adds, “The arts, culture and design are essential to our lives and to our wellbeing. We must appreciate the significance of the arts to our quality of life, in particular it is this that gives London its soul. English National Ballet is a treasured national asset, and we should all be grateful for what they and other artistic talents, bring to our society. I have been pleased to support them, and urge others to support the arts, especially at this very difficult time”.

Maria Kochetkova

International ballet star Maria Kochetkova is returning to ENB as a lead principal. She previously danced with the company from 2003-2007, and appeared as a guest dancer in Cinderella in-the-round in 2019. She has also appeared with The Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, the Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky Theatres, and American Ballet Theatre.

New ballet pipeline project

ENB is launching a new ballet talent pipeline project to provide high-quality, early-stage, ballet training children aged 8-12 years. It will run in association with five dance schools across England: West London School of Dance in collaboration with the Young Dancers Academy, Dupont Dance Stage School, Beckenham Ballet Academy, The Joanne Bond School of Classical Ballet, and The Janet Lomas School of Dancing.

The five-year programme aims to contribute to and promote a diverse classical landscape by proactively encouraging and incentivising more dancers from traditionally underrepresented groups to participate in professional ballet training at the earliest possible point; in turn, impacting on 21st century work.

English National Ballet’s senior leadership team will work with members of the company’s artistic staff as well as dancer, Sarah Kundi, who will help shape the programme and be a mentor to the children involved in the project.

An initial 12-month pilot phase of the project will begin in July 2021. Further details will be announced soon.

Leaders of the Future programme expanded

Launched in 2019, Dance Leaders of the Future is part of ENB’s commitment to the development of every individual and every aspect of the art form, including leadership. It offers dancers the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and gain experience and a greater understanding of the running of an arts organisation. The programme sees dancers selected for the programme attend key organisational meetings, carry out placements in administrative departments and learn more about the business model at ENB.

The programme will now expand to span two years. The first offers an induction to all company departments and core leadership training, whilst the second year investigates a specialist focus, and develops autonomy with the delivery of an independent-led project.

Engagement programme

ENB’s Engagement programme has continued throughout the pandemic, improving wellbeing through the online adaptation of Dance for Parkinson’s and ENBEldersCo, the talent development initiative ENBYouthCo-nnect; and tackling loneliness through digital connection, ENBTogether befriending scheme.

The 2021-2022 season reactivates Dance Journeys Digital Works film capture, Digital Arts Award – Demi & Grand Pas packages and Ballet Explored as a blended model for schools with packages for both Creature and Raymonda.

ENBYouthCo returns to Mulryan Centre for Dance and Dance for Dementia galvanises partnerships with care homes.

Coming soon, Raymonda Reinvented is a new creative cross arts project drawing on the themes of identity and female pioneers which leads to a mainstage performance by young people. A tour of blended virtual/in-person ENBYouthCo Digital Roadshow to youth and community centres across east London will introduce young people to ballet and the company, and proactively seeks to widen and diversify local recruitment of underrepresented groups.

ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s inclusive engagement progresses SHAPER [Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research] research programme, the world’s largest study into impact and scalability of arts interventions on physical and mental health with King’s College London and UCL.

For further details, visit www.ballet.org.uk.