English National Ballet’s second Beyond Ballets Russes programme goes from the lucid beauty of Apollo to the fireworks of Suite en blanc, with some unexpected novelty in the middle. This is a company on confident form.
It’s been subject to some upheavals. Toer van Schayk’s planned new version of Ode – a lost 1920s ballet that was groundbreaking in its use of film and lighting – had to be abandoned for personal reasons. In its place, company director Wayne Eagling staged a solo from another 1920s ballet, Le Train Bleu, and his own new version of Jeux. The cheers that greeted Eagling’s Jeux suggested personal support. He will step down as director at the end of this season, an unexpected decision that has caused controversy.
His Jeux is literally a mixture. Nijinsky’s original ballet is lost. This version draws on photographs and on the sequences Kenneth MacMillan choreographed for the 1978 movie Nijinsky. Eagling sets all this in a rehearsal studio, with a framework of Nijinsky creating the ballet. It’s a slight work, with dancers waving tennis racquets or watching each other in involved trios. There are some appealing, darting moves for the women, in chic 1920s sports dresses. Gavin Sutherland conduct’s Debussy’s lovely score.
Vadim Muntagirov bounds through the very jolly solo from Le Train Bleu, Nijinska’s response to the sporting 1920s. Dressed in a bathing costume designed by Chanel, he turns cartwheels with and without hands, dips into a diving pose and whirls onwards.
The evening opened with a fine account of Balanchine’s Apollo. Zdenek Konvalina, a very elegant dancer, plays the young god with smooth lines and intelligent phrasing. He’s matched by Daria Klimentová’s Terpsichore, danced with clarity and warmth.
Serge Lifar, one of the stars of the original Ballets Russes, went on to create Suite en blanc in 1943. It’s a classical showcase, stuffed with solo roles and opportunities for display. Muntagirov, Laurretta Summerscales and Ken Saruhashi shine in the pas de trois, buoyant and quick. Nancy Osbaldestone boings through the pas de cinq, matched by her four cavaliers.
Elena Glurdjidze is outstanding in the “Cigarette” solo, with curling, floating arms and grand authority. Lifar’s view of classicism features academic steps and lots of chic, with dancers tilting flirtatiously into slanting poses. In the pas de deux, Erina Takahashi leans against Konvalina, tipped sideways without turning a hair. The company dive into Lifar's grand finale, ending the evening with a flourish.
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