Six female choreographers and a rock ballet

David Mead talks to New English Ballet Theatre founder and artistic director Karen Pilkington-Miksa about the company’s summer 2022 season.

After a performance hiatus of two years New English Ballet Theatre returns to the live stage this June, July and August. And it is delightful to be back, says Pilkington-Miksa, although, “It’s a bit of a shock to the system how hard we all work,” she adds laughing.

NEBT’s 2022 live performance season includes several programmes combining new work and repertory, with music running from classical to rock. “We are so excited about the summer programme,” she says. “With its breadth of dance and musical styles, the season offers something for every taste. We are proud to be able to showcase our dancers, choreographers and collaborators in a variety of fabulous settings and venues.”

A season highlight is the company’s appearances as part of The Royal Opera House’s Next Generation Festival at the Linbury Theatre on June 17 and 18. NEBT’s contribution, Into the Spotlight, a celebration of female choreographers.

Domino by Ruth Brill
Photo Deborah Jaffe

The programme features some new works postponed from 2020 and only now being finished. These include Domino by Ruth Brill, a dance of shifting patterns and pairings where ‘players’ engage in matching with a partner instead of matching pieces and numbers. “She’s using solo piano music by Ryuichi Sakamoto. It will be 14 minutes, and a cast of six. She has a lovely relationship with her designer, Elin Steele. Artistically, I always find costumes fascinating. They’ve done a Mondrian-like costume; I suppose evocative of dominos without being literal.”

Also only now being completed is Rosamunde by Morgann Runacre-Temple, inspired by the image of Gretchen at the spinning wheel that is often linked to the Rosamunde Quartet by Schubert to which it is partly danced. Pilkington-Miksa says the music is played pretty much straightforwardly at first, before composer Tom Lane’s electronic takes over. “As the piece becomes more modern, contemporary and introverted, the music also veers off from the expected. So, it’s a kind of journey, really.”

Rosamunde by Morgann Runacre-Temple
Photo Deborah Jaffe

They will be separated by the first of the three new works, Nocturne, a pas de deux by Daniela Cardim, also originally commissioned for 2020. “She’s got beautiful costuming by Lisa James, for the woman, a sort of sapphire blue ballgown. The music is Chopin’s Nocturne No.13 in C Minor. It’s a very romantic dance. But there’s always a modern edge to Dani’s choreography. I find what she is doing with the music really interesting.”

Also new is Solace, and ensemble work by Georgie Rose, a former dancer with NEBT, now with Norwegian National Ballet. “She did a preliminary piece with us in The Royal Ballet’s Summer Choreographic Intensive in 2019. They were very keen that we would develop the relationship because she’s one of theirs, one of ours and she wants to choreography. So, it pulls all the strands together. That is new music too; quite modern, almost rap like.”

I Can’t Dance by Kristen McNally
Photo Nina Kobiashvili

The final new work is I Can’t Dance by Kristen McNally, danced to the 1991 Genesis song of the same title. “They’ve been collaborating with us about doing a ballet, so we’ve got permission to use that. Kristen has done three very popular pieces with us in the past, always a bit witty and tongue-in-cheek. I think this is the same. It’s such a complete breath of fresh air; so different.”

Completing the programme are two of Jenna Lee’s stylish and neoclassical, The Four Seasons, danced to Max Richter’s popular recomposition of Vivaldi’s masterpiece. “We’re doing Summer, because it is summer, and Winter, because it’s a bit of ice and fire, and a bit of a contrast.”

Programmes like Into the Spotlight are so important, says Pilkington-Miksa. “There have been a lot of well-known female choreographers in the history of dance, people like Dame Ninette de Valois, Martha Graham, Twyla Tharp in my generation. But Kristen said to me, female dancers today, if they are in the corps, are on the stage most of the time. And most of our choreographers are full-time dancers in companies. When everyone is saying there is not enough female classical choreography being done, this was an opportunity to give them the space they need, and a commission that pays them to come and do it. It is very important that they get those opportunities, otherwise they may never develop, however much they may feel they are choreographers. And even then, they might not get the chance to work with eight or nine dancers. Making a pas de deux is not the same thing. We make sure they have the space and time and their needs all matched up, so they are really ready to experiment and everything.”

The Four Seasons by Jenna Lee
Photo Deborah Jaffe

After their London shows, NEBT have two festival appearances. In what will be the company’s third visit to the prestigious Cheltenham Music Festival, Into the Spotlight will be performed at the town’s Everyman Theatre on July 10. A few days later, they will dance Lee’s The Four Seasons in full in the stunning neoclassical surroundings of The Grange near Arlesford in Hampshire as part of the Grange Festival’s ‘Dance@TheGrange 2022’ programme, Baroque Counterpoint, and for which they will be joined by The Royal Ballet’s Sophie Allnatt and Luca Acri as guest artists, and who will dance the Summer pas de deux.

At The Grange, the company will also be providing some fireworks in the shape of the Grand pas de deux from Don Quixote with Acri joined by further guest Haruhi Otani of English National Ballet).

“We are so thrilled to have been invited,” says Pilkington-Miksa. “It’s a fabulous venue. That stage is perfect for The Four Seasons. And it’s a real honour to be paired with Shobana Jeyasingh and the premiere of her new choreography to Monteverdi’s Clorinda Agonistes.”

After that, the company has two performances at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre on August 3 & 4. Those will open with Domino, Nocturne and Rosamunde, works where all three choreographers have connections to the city. “Then, in the second half, we are premiering, it’s really a work in progress, the Genesis ballet.” New choreography to three 70s songs by Valentino Zucchetti, Ruth Brill and Wayne Eagling will be followed by McNally’s ‘I Can’t Dance’. “We really want feedback from the Birmingham audience. We’re hoping to get a lot of Genesis fans in to listen and tell us what they think.”

New English Ballet Theatre’s summer 2022 schedule:
June 17 & 18: Next Generation Festival; Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London.
July 10: Cheltenham Music Festival; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
July 13 & 14: Dance@TheGrange; Grange Festival, Arlesford, Hampshire.
August 3 & 4: Crescent Theatre, Birmingham.

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