Sadler’s Wells

6th April 2022

Stuart Sweeney

William Forsythe has been creating dance for fifty years and we are the beneficiaries. I was thrilled by the first performance in London of his Ballett Frankfurt and dancers I knew regarded him as the pinnacle of contemporary ballet. Then, the spiky, revolutionary ballets to Thom Willems’ edgy, electronic music, such as In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, gave way to even more experimental works. I remember, You Made me a Monster, about the death of his first wife, with the audience on stage extending fantastic, macabre cardboard shapes, as Forsythe’s dancers moved between the tables, while we read Forsythe’s moving text about his wife’s cancer.

Now in his 70’s, he has returned to his original love, ballet, but set to pop music and he remains a master of his art. The two works in this performance, Blake Works 1 and Playlist (EP), are connected, as Forsythe saw and was impressed by the quality of the ENB dancers when he was creating the former work on Paris Opera Ballet.

Playlist (EP)
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

Originally confined to the men of the company, Playlist (Tracks 1,2), is now extended to include the women and is even stronger than before. The ballet is a gorgeous romp with a relaxed atmosphere, persuading the audience to cheer the performers on as if it was street dance, but nevertheless, utilising the full range of ballet technique at its most demanding. To Peven Everett’s Surely Shorty, twelve male dancers introduce the work with extraordinary bravado – jumping, spinning, throwing in entrechats, as well as funky moments in a breathtaking display. On a bare stage, Forsythe uses the space to create dynamic shapes – it’s certainly ballet to be seen from the first circle, to fully appreciate the geometric invention. The next section provided six of the ENB women with an energetic and elegant interpretation of Abra’s Vegas and Emily Suziki shows a particular affinity for phrasing Forsythe’s moves.

Precious Adame and James Streeter in Playlist (EP)
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

To Lion Babe’s Impossible, the men return with a mix of solos, ensemble and steps in canon with the energy levels turned up even higher. Jeffrey Cirio is in his element, able to use his speed and terrific technique to get the most out of Forsythe’s movement. Location by Khalid sees Precious Adams and James Streeter enjoying a subtle duet. Adams has playful steps and enjoys herself in a dance full of joie de vivre. In the final parts of the Playlist (EP), over 30 men and women dance together, continuing the celebration of life and dance. Shiori Kase stood out with her pace and precision. Playlist (EP) is one of Forsythe’s most enjoyable works.

Emily Susuki and Isaac Hernandez in Blake Works 1
Photo: Laurent Liotardo

The evening opened with Blake Works 1, an elegant ensemble ballet to music by James Blake. Forsythe is clearly a huge fan and credits Blake with the title, “composer”. I preferred the more lively pop music of Playlist (EP) but Forsythe utilises the pace, phrasing and mood of each of the seven Blake songs to great effect. Again, the full range of ballet technique is employed, stretched to new limits. Imaginative use of symmetry plays an important role in this work, extending the patterns we are used to from Petipa. Two duets form emotional high spots. Emily Suzuki and Isaac Hernandez display a loving relationship with exquisite steps and as a finale, Emma Hawkes and Aitor Arrieta, movingly explore Blake’s melancholy song, f.o.r.e.v.e.r.

An excellent evening of dance, showing both Forsythe and English National Ballet on top form.