Sadler’s Wells Theatre
London

4 April 2019

Maggie Foyer

She Said and the later incarnation She Persisted are Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo’s response to the dearth of women ballet choreographers. Despite the proliferation of female dancers, in twenty years of dancing in ballet companies, she realised that she had never danced in a work by a woman choreographer.

The middle work of the evening, Nora, was choreographed by first artist, Stina Quagebeur. She has shown distinct promise in short works written for company workshops and came up trumps with her first main stage work. Based on Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, the work concentrates on the central trio of Nora, Torvald, her husband, and the bank clerk, Krogstad, each given a distinctive movement language. A chorus of 5 Voices added textured layers to the ballet, initially seeming to be the expression of societal constraint but later supporting her life-changing decision to leave her husband.

Crystal Costa with ENB Artists in Stina Quagebeur's Nora Photo: Laurent Liotardo

Crystal Costa with ENB Artists in Stina Quagebeur’s Nora
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

The role of Nora underlines Crystal Costa’s fine dramatic talents as she captures both the inner turmoil and the outer chameleon character. One moment she is Torvald’s model, contented wife, the next a woman with her own mind, the nuances expertly portrayed in her movement. Jeffrey Cirio as Torvald, is a man bound by the conventions of his class and society. His fierce rage when learning of his wife’s misdemeanour switches the instant the offending document is torn up and the relieved husband embraces his wife. But Nora is in another place and as she and the Voices silently exit, he is left alone in a fractured house.

Junor Souza portrays Krogstad as ultimately a man of integrity, after an interlude where he threatens blackmail, investing this crucial character with dignity and a compelling presence. The scene where he argues his case with Torvald is skilfully choreographed in telling gestures and attitudes. Quagebeur employs a wide range of movement as well as having the theatrical nous to know when less is more. She is a real choreographic find and I’m sure we will be seeing more of her work.

Katja Khaniukova and Irek Mukhamedov in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings Photo: Laurent Liotardo

Katja Khaniukova and Irek Mukhamedov in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings makes a welcome return this time with Katja Khaniukova making her debut in the role of Frida. The Mexican painter’s tempestuous life is portrayed in vivid technicolour with fantasy figures of deer, birds and butterflies. Even the constant theme of death is embodied with comic ferocity in the black and white skeletons. Irek Mukhamedov returns to repeat his rich interpretation of Diego Rivera and is an excellent foil for Khaniukova’s high voltage passion. The pair lived a life stranger than fiction and Ochoa successfully translates this into an unusual and entertaining ballet.

Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du Printemps Photo: Laurent Liotardo

Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du Printemps
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

The evening closed on Pina Bausch’s iconic Rite of Spring,probably the most mesmerising of the many, many interpretations of Stravinsky’s score, given an excellent performance by the English National Ballet Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland. The commitment of this company of superb dancers gives potency to the sheer muscle power demanded and leaves the audience drained as well as the company. Tiny Francesca Velicu, barefoot in her torn red dress, repeated her triumph as the Chosen Maiden.

This was a five-star evening, making a statement about gender inequality in grand style.