Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur end this gala evening with an excerpt from The Sleeping Beauty. When the curtain goes up – on these dancers, that music, that ballet – there's a cheer of recognition and affection from the audience.
Oaks and Edur are English National Ballet's star couple, together, on stage and off, for almost 20 years. Oaks plans to retire, though not just yet: she'll dance with ENB until this summer. This gala celebrates Oaks and Edur as a partnership, with filmed interviews, a range of ballets and some very fine dancing.
The dances are introduced with film sequences, presenting an endearing picture of the couple. Photographs show them as children, at ballet school in Estonia. In interview clips, they're sweet, modest, gently teasing each other.
This evening of excerpts has one solid ballet, Balanchine's Apollo, a showcase for Edur's elegance. With calm grace, he moves from classical positions to angular poses, feet flexed or stretched, always lucid. As Terpsichore, Oaks is quick and delicate, sailing confidently through her dances. Erina Takahashi and Sarah McIlroy are lively as Calliope and Polyhymnia.
Derek Deane's Impromptu is a slight duet to Schubert. The steps are conventional, but show Oaks' windblown quality. She scampers lightly through fast passages, luxuriates in poses. Edur partners her tenderly. The duet highlights the partnership's strengths: the well-matched proportions, the ease and with which they move together.
Wayne McGregor's 2 Human tries to show another side to this partnership, presenting them as punks with spiked hair and ripped clothes. It looks like a choreographer trying too hard. The music is Bach, the moves are twisty, with Oaks bent double and manipulated every which way. It goes against the grain of this couple's style, without quite showing us something new about them.
There are more gala numbers by ENB dancers. Begoña Cao and James Forbat are sleek in a duet from Balanchine's Who Cares?; Takahashi and Arionel Vargas wrestle with Wayne Eagling's Duet, unhelpfully set to Wagner's "Liebestod"; Cao and Esteban Berlanga work through Ben Stevenson's uninspired Three Preludes.
The Sleeping Beauty provides a happy ending. The ballet has been a constant in Oaks' and Edur's careers, and tonight they are radiant and assured.
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