Beyond Ballets Russes 1 London Coliseum, London


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The Independent Culture

 After a winter of limited repertory, English National Ballet burst into spring with two ambitious programmes. The Beyond Ballets Russes season starts with a new ballet, new designs and some bright performances. The new Firebird doesn’t take off, but Erina Takahashi is a blazing Chosen One in The Rite of Spring.

Created for the Ballets Russes in 1910, The Firebird was a traditional Russian fairy tale. George Williamson has reinvented it as a vague eco-fable, cutting the Stravinsky score. Ksenia Ovsyanick’s Firebird is a spirit of nature. Humanity wants a bit of her – literally, greedily wrenching off her plumage. At last the Firebird rejects them and plunges into darkness. After a mourning dance by Lauretta Summerscales as a figure of Purity, everybody gives the bits back and the Firebird returns in triumph.    

Williamson is a young choreographer, having graduated from ENB’s school in 2010. I can see why the company has promoted him: he moves his dancers with confidence. There’s a punchy solo for Junor Souza’s army captain and some slinky poses for three Muses. Overall, there’s too much acrobatic milling about, with undeveloped sideswipes at celebrity culture.  

David Bamber, who has designed for Gucci and Calvin Klein, has created vivid costumes. The Firebird’s patterned unitard has bold colours and shimmering gilt, with a striking headdress. The costumes give other characters a clear identity. Ovsyanick dances cleanly, with polished support from the rest of the company.  

The original Nijinsky L’Après-midi d’un faune, with its ravishing Bakst décor, is followed by Faun(e), David Dawson’s response to it. The Nijinsky nymphs are atmospheric, led by Elena Glurdjidze, though Dmitri Gruzdyev is a rather stiff faun. Jan Casier and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet are sinuous in the Dawson version.  

For this revival, Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring has been given a new look by fashion designer Kinder Aggugini. His designs suggest a dance tribe rather than a community: black unitards, with bands of sheer and solid fabric, and very dark red embroidery to add texture. Bands round the lower calf suggest legwarmers. The bodies stand out against a bare stage, where previous productions made them part of a coloured landscape.  

The performance is rigorous, the full company stomping through its ritual dances. Gavin Sutherland conducts the company’s orchestra in Stravinsky’s mighty score. Takahashi is a tiny, driven Chosen One, her small frame powering through the final dance. In her last moments, her shaking limbs suggest both shivering exhaustion and unstoppable will.  

Until 27 March. Box office 0871 911 0200. Beyond Ballets Russes season continues until 1 April.