A super evening of many colours and emotions from New English Ballet Theatre

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House
June 17, 2022

New English Ballet Theatre’s 2022 live performance season opened at the Linbury Theatre with Into the Spotlight, a mixed programme of new work and repertory from six female choreographers as part of the Royal Opera House’s Next Generation Festival. The music was mixed too, running from classical to rock.

Perhaps it was simply the thrill of finally getting the programme on stage in front of a live audience after two years of postponements. Perhaps too, it was the very collaborative and open way the new works were made, something that came through strongly in the short ‘behind-the-scenes’ films. Whatever, the company look in fine fettle, maybe as good as I’ve ever seen them. It was an evening of varying colours, from emotionally intense and thoughtful to fizzing like the best English sparkling wine.

Ruth Brill’s opening Domino is all about precision and shifting patterns. After a perky, rather playful opening, the work takes on a more serious tone. To piano music by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s, there’s a lot of mirroring of movement and variations on symmetry and asymmetry as the cast of six explore connections. The almost expressionistic choreography hints at a game, although if it wasn’t for the references to dominoes on Elin Steel’s rather clever costumes that hint towards Piet Mondrian and Brill’s later explanation about the work’s structure in a film, I’m not sure I would have guessed it was dominoes.

Domino by Ruth Brill (not in costume)
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Also to piano music is the following Nocturne by Daniela Cardim. But how different. Set to Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne No.13 in C minor, it’s a beautiful, intense and very intimate pas de deux, and a highlight of the evening. Camino Llonch and Daniel Corthorn are the couple working their way through sorrow and loss. Surrounded by darkness, perhaps the darkness of their feelings, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who recalled Jerome Robbins’ In the Night. Llonch throws herself at Corthorn. She clings to him. But all the time there is a bond, a closeness and togetherness that you feel will see them through. I will be amazed if Nocturne doesn’t stay in the repertory for a long time.

It’s not only the hands, it’s that they seemed so large. That is the lingering memory of Rosamunde by Morgann Runacre-Temple. The dance, which essentially explores the idea of hands on the body, has a strange other-worldly feel, emphasised by Tom Lane’s alien arrangement of Franz Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet.

Rosamunde by Morgann Runacre-Temple
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Georgie Rose’s Solace plays on the idea that not all solace, not all comfort, is genuine. To Ruby Fulton’s repetitive ‘I’m Sorry Not Sorry’ the dancers sometimes support each other, sometimes let each other fall. The structuring and partnering is superb, although it does feel rather like a work in progress (I understand it was made only very recently). Top marks to April Dalton’s costumes of pale orange suits and turtlenecks all round, and to Andrew Ellis (responsible for all six pieces) for the gorgeous lighting.

“Hot sun beating down, burning my feet just walking around, hot sun makin’ me sweat…” On what was the hottest day of the year, I probably wasn’t the only one who smiled at Anthony Banks, Michael Rutherford and Phil Collins’ lyrics as Kristen McNally’s I Can’t Dance began. But, amid all the excellent live dance, presenting it a film felt odd and out of place. I look forward to seeing it live along with some other sections of the still very much work-in-progress Genesis Dance Project at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham in August.

NEBT in The Four Seasons by Jenna Lee
Photo Deborah Jaffe

From there to the Summer of Jenna Lee’s The Four Seasons. Performed to Max Richter’s original recomposition of Antonio Vivaldi’s well-known score (Richter has very recently released The New Four Seasons, this time using gut strings and vintage synthesisers to create a grittier sound), the ballet has become something of a feature of NEBT programmes, but I’m not complaining. It’s an absolute gem.

Summer opens with unbounded effervescence and panache before diving into the dreamy, hot pas de deux, superbly danced by Mayuko Suzuki and Xholindi Muçi. Skipping Autumn (we passed on Spring too), the programme was brought to a close by Lee’s stormy Winter that sees the dancers blown across the stage forming super patterns as they go. A snow flurry, maybe? The following lyrical, slow section feels like one of those pretty but chill February mornings when hoar frost clings to tree branches, before the sun rises on a still icy but fast-moving finale.

New English Ballet Theatre can be seen this summer at:
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, as part of the Cheltenham Music Festival (July 10; programme as at the Linbury Theatre)
Dance@TheGrange, as part of The Grange Festival, Alresford, Hampshire (July 13-14; The Four Seasons in full, plus Don Quixote Grande pas de deux) in a double bill with Shobana Jeyasingh’s new Clorinda Agonistes.
Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk (July 21-24, dates tbc; Rosamunde, The Genesis Dance Project)
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (August 3-4; Domino, Rosamunde, Nocturne, The Genesis Dance Project)