Remembrance: New English Ballet Theatre in an ambitious double-bill

Peacock Theatre, London
September 28, 2018

Charlotte Kasner

Choreographers Jenna Lee and Wayne Eagling have presented New English Ballet Theatre with a challenging double bill. Both works could easily be taken into repertories of other companies, but are perhaps a little too ambitious and somewhat overwhelming for the young dancers here.

Andrew Ellis’ lighting and April Dalton’s costumes for Jenna Lee’s The Four Seasons are striking and create a stripped down background to a similarly severed score.

There is a delicious classicism underlying the choreography which provides for some lovely lines and ports de bras although there could be more nuance. It’s a ballet that requires rapier sharp and rapier light dancing as limbs stab the air as the dancers rush through the depictions of the year at a frenetic pace, pairing and parting.

The dancers need to fling themselves into it with more daring and risk than they managed, however. The pas de deux (Sophie Allnatt and Benjamin Holloway) in particular lacked the required attack. The duo seemed afraid of it and one just longed for them to throw caution to the wind and just go hell for leather. Elsewhere, there were several wobbly moments and the men struggled with the lifts at times and lacked ballon.

New English Ballet Theatre in The Four Seasons by Jenna LeePhoto Deborah Jaffe
New English Ballet Theatre in The Four Seasons by Jenna Lee
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Max Richter’s mash up of the Vivaldi score is another matter. It startles then merely grates. Four Seasons is painfully over exposed anyway but Richter’s ‘sampling’ does it no favours. It is like listening to the endless repeating of fragments of once-heard melodies that can be remembered but not understood. Complexity is destroyed; subtle harmonies trashed. The depth of representation of Vivaldi, rich in intricacy and sophistication that gives us the musical equivalent of a plush brocade followed by a filmy gauze is sacrificed for a version more suited to drug-addled clubbing.

Eagling’s Remembrance is based on a very clever premise, taking the theme of the mid-First World War romance and marriage between Ashley Dukes and Mim Rambert as a centrepiece for this recollection of the conflict. Alessia Lugoboni, physically, never mind generationally, far removed from her subject, was all steely strength alternating with vulnerability. She created a rounded character that carried over the footlights.

Lugoboni creates a Rambert who clings on to dance to keep sane. She shows how her mind focuses one minute on her work in the studio, the next torn away to imagine her lover in every figure that she passes on the street. Her powerful evocation of the nightmare of her mind tricking her into evoking Dukes’ death, the dread figure of the telegraph boy, the nurses bearing stretchers of casualties ‘lucky enough’ to have copped a Blighty wound, all subsumed into the dance.

Alexander Nuttall was less secure and less convincing as the urbane Dukes and the corps de ballet struggled in places, looking tired.

Of course, unlike so many others, Rambert and Dukes were reunited, the scars on the inside hidden from view as they both formed the crucible for the revival of English ballet in the years before the worked would again crumble into war.

Again, set and lighting were excellent. Nina Kobiashvili creates a stunning evocation of both the interiors and the theatre of war. Andrew Ellis’ lighting is used to full effect, subtle changes in the station projection creating the impression of those agonising farewells and reuniting of a century ago. The London ravaged by Zeppelins is every bit as broken and bleak as the western front, echoing the emotions of the ghost-like people who wait for the dreaded telegram, struggling on with their reduced lives as best they can.

The use of Handel’s Ode for St Cecelia’s Day is inspired. The music composed 175 years before the outbreak of the Great War and Dryden’s libretto, written  227 years before, are both tragically all too apt for the conflict that they here illustrate. It must have been tempting to use music contemporary to the period but Handel provides the perfect lesson and solace for the war-weary hearts. So good to hear the live performance too.