Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
October 2, 2023
New English Ballet Theatre have become known for presenting interesting new work, often by emerging, young choreographers. That continued in their latest programme of two new pieces to the very contrasting sounds of J.S. Bach and Nicholas Robert Thayer; and Genesis Dance Project, six dances each to one of the progressive rock band Genesis’ songs, some well-known, some less so.
The most impressive of the works proved to be the opening Baroque Encounters by Daniela Cardim, an unashamedly neoclassical ballet to two of Bach’s harpsichord compositions, the Harpsichord Concerto No.7 in G Minor and Sonata for Violin and Continuo in C Minor, although there is doubt as to whether the latter is indeed the composer’s work.
The title is perfect. An ensemble opening with men and women alike in designer April Dalton’s red tops and long red skirts focuses on patterns and swooping arms with those skirts often held and wafted. It has an almost quasi-religious feel.
But then, with the long skirts swapped for shorter ones, it becomes a dance of many sections, each some sort of meeting. Among them, there’s a pas de deux, a slower all-female duet and, best of all, a more pacy, lighter trio for two men and a woman. It’s multi-layered and very neatly structured around the two scores, Cardim’s choreography picking up on the detail of the music. It may not feel especially innovative but sometimes dance doesn’t need to be. Baroque Encounters is a lovely watch and made for a fine opening.
Peter Leung’s All in Passing is altogether more contemporary, as is Thayer’s electronic noise, which bears little connection to the on-stage action. It’s an exploration of touch and partnering, although any meaning beyond that is elusive. It has flow as different partnerships come and go but they’re often at least partly lost in the throng. As good as the dancers are, the movement vocabulary isn’t grabbing and it quickly gets monotonous. A glance at the watch revealed it’s actually several minutes shorter than Baroque Encounters. It felt much longer.
Four choreographers. Six dances, each unconnected apart from that they are all to the band’s music. The Genesis Dance Project certainly sounded intriguing. It turned out to be rather a mixed bag.
Wayne Eagling’s ensemble opener, ‘Watcher of the Skies,’ establishes a youthful vibe and certainly has a lot going on. The action is rather drowned by the backing video, however. His second contribution, ‘Ripples,’ the third of the dances is much more successful. It’s a super trio for Ana Freire, Eric Caterer-Cave and Nicholas Vavrečka in which the dance surfs the music with Freire often carried by the two men. That Eagling was inspired in part by a reference in the lyrics to Helen of Troy and the two men in her life is far from obvious but it doesn’t matter. It’s a fine, very musical piece of choreography.
Altogether more overt is the narrative in Ruth Brill’s ‘The Cinema Show’ (the fourth piece), Brill taking her cue from lyrics that describe two lovers, who just happen to be called Romeo and Juliet, readying themselves for a first date at the cinema, but who are controlled by Tiresius. Quite how a blind prophet of Apollo who lived in Thebes gets mixed up with modern-day or star-crossed lovers I’m not sure. Blame the Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford who penned the words. With the small corps partly reflecting the latter’s power, partly echoing the lovers, it promised much but Tiresius’ dance never quite matches the power he wields.
Eagling’s opener was followed by ‘I Can’t Dance’ by Kristen McNally, a buzzing, up-tempo group number that sees nine dancers mostly moving as one. While it has hints of musical theatre and Bob Fosse in particular, my mind couldn’t stop rewinding to ’70s and ’80s Top of the Pops backing dancers. It might not be classically balletic but it taps into the music brilliantly. Less successful is her penultimate ‘Invisible Touch’ in which Genevieve Heron and Nicholas Vavrečka travel around the stage in a sort of robotic duet of semaphore arm movements, the couple always close but never actually touching.
Classicism was rather more to the fore in Valentino Zucchetti’s closing ‘Firth of Fifth,’ which. although painting some nice pictures, fails to really catch light. Again, the backdrop does not help.
So, Genesis Dance Project. Top marks for the idea but, as it stands, it doesn’t hit the mark. It’s also confused. It feels like it should be seen as one work of many parts. There are several ballets like that, although few with multiple choreographers, an approach usually fraught with issues. The staging, with choreographed connections between dances also suggests that, as do links in costume, although the latter may be as much down to cost as anything else. But other aspects point to it being a series of different, standalone pieces, not least it being split in two by a background video currently between the third and fourth songs that destroys any sense of flow. And, weirdly, given the wildly varying choreography, it does have flow of sorts. I also really can’t help wishing the company’s classical base could be more to the fore throughout. Right now, it likely leaves both Genesis and ballet fans unfulfilled.