Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
June 19, 2015
I don’t remember the last time I skimmed the programme for a mixed bill before a performance and was stopped in my tracks. In fact, this may even be a first. For this year’s Choreographics evening, English National Ballet gave four company members, a couple of independent choreographers and one student dancer the chance to make a short work around the theme of post-war America and – wow – what choices they made.
Yes, there was a good spread of ideas, and wide-ranging movement vocabulary, but what was really impressive was the breadth and depth of the subject matter. Any ex-pat Americans in the house would have plenty of food for thought in the way that these dancers have chosen to represent their country.
Third Year student at the ENB School, Joshua Legge, provided an hors d’oeuvre in Babel, a work purporting to explore the challenges of conversation through insurmountable language barriers – a subject from the heart perhaps. It is also rather pertinent to the melting pot that is America, by coincidence. The dance language that it uses communicates perfectly. Babel is a remarkably mature piece, danced with great verve. Legge is not shy of using plenty of exciting and challenging movement. The highlight is provided by one dancer leaping into the air from nowhere, slicing his legs horizontally and kicking his partner in the shoulder and upper arm. The daring and precision of the move is genuinely breathtaking and conveys hype emotion. Legge enjoys showing off the mens’ controlled pirouettes and never forgets to illustrate the dramatic line. A worthy winner of the School’s choreographic competition and one to watch.
Renato Paroni de Castro’s Memory of What Could Have Been is a straightforward narrative of a love triangle severed by war (the latter a recurring theme of the evening). Two sailors vie for the same girl, she marries one and he is killed in the war in Pacific. She muses on what might have been with his still living brother. The sailor suits conjure up a grim parody of On The Town or Fancy Free, as the grieving widow mourns her lost opportunities.
Give My Love to the Sunrise by Morgan Runacre-Temple, Choreographer in Residence at Ballet Ireland, is an exploration of film noir and works so well that it seems a wonder that ballet hasn’t already charted these waters. The strong characterisation, one might almost say, caricaturisation, is ideally suited to ballet’s need for dramatic clarity. It doesn’t matter if you’re not familiar with the Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai (the title is a quote from it) that inspired it: femme fatale meets cynical man for interesting encounter basically. The choice of music was particularly clever, a rather sickly, conventional piano piece undercutting the dark souls depicted on stage. Lifts were particularly effective, several at waist height as one might see in ice dance.
Fabian Remair’s traumA is also a fairly conventional exploration of the losses of war, this time not located in a specific context. A woman is haunted by dreams of her lost husband and finally dances with his “vision” and lets him go. It is a little cluttered although the dancers give it their best.
Fractured Memory is Max Westwell’s debut work and doesn’t succeed as a narrative. It is apparently based on a drive-in movie. It is not clear how or why from the dance. It was a brave attempt to work with six dancers and he keeps it moving, but it is a muddle,
The closing work of the night, A Room in New York by Stina Quagebeur, was about that most iconic of American painters, Edward Hopper. No Nighthawks here though but a pas de deux that depicted his tempestuous home life. This is a couple that can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other. They fight like cat and dog, literally spitting but they are hopelessly entwined in their wedded solitude.
But by far the best work of the evening was James Streeter’s stunning work about the Rosenbergs, A Touch for Eternity. By chance, chillingly, the performance took place on the 62nd anniversary of their barbaric execution in the frenzy of McCarthyite paranoia.
The power of this pas de deux, danced across a simple gobo of prison bars projected on the stage, lies in its density of movement, passionately danced by Adela Ramirez and Juan Rodriguez. They are of course far too young and their costumes, a sleeveless vest and leggings for him and a floaty grey streaked dress for her, are not naturalist for the oh-so-ordinary suburban couple. They are rather essence of the people that the Rosenbergs could
have been. A romantic pair with their deeply tragic ending.
A Touch for Eternity deserves a re-examination and is ripe for expanding into a bigger work; and is not the only piece of the evening that could easily grace the main stage.
Times have never been harder for the arts, but if tonight’s choreography is anything to go by, the future is in safe hands.