ENB Tour De Force, Theatre Royal, Brighton, ***
Wednesday 23 April 2003
Two further premieres entered English National Ballet's small-scale spring tour at Brighton, following the host of novelties given at Sadler's Wells. I am not sure that exhuming Kenneth MacMillan's Side Show is going to do a lot for the choreographer's reputation. It also makes a dubious tribute to Rudolf Nureyev, since the original production in 1972 (premiered on All Fools' Day) gave lousy roles to him and Lynn Seymour, playing a pair of no-good would-be star dancers. Even with them the duet flopped.
Generously, however, Seymour has staged it with more care and understanding than it deserves, and ENB's cast, with less to lose than their predecessors, do it terrifically well. Having the Cuban dancer, Yat-Sen Chang, in a huge curling moustache, achieves as much as anyone reasonably could with the heavy-handed jokes; couldn't MacMillan think of anything else than having the poor chap flex his biceps and repeatedly fall over? Chang also, when finally allowed a few show-off steps, presents them with brilliantly enthusiastic flair.
Simone Clarke plays up to him admirably, with a most engaging smile to cover the character's embarrassment at all the contretemps, and an endearing wish to keep the audience involved. Some of Stravinsky's jolliest tunes, from the Suite for Small Orchestra, overcome the disadvantage of a taped performance to help the short piece on its way.
It was a busy evening for Chang, featured also in the other new production, Noel Wallace's Hollywood Smash & Grab. In this he plays an Oscar award presenter, whose winner is the deliciously nervous Alice Crawford. Sadly she has her statuette stolen, but keeps her feet prettily pointed while the supporting cast impede her every attempt at recovery.
Erina Takahashi, from Japan, is another young hopeful, but to be honest the plot never really takes off.
Probably that is because of the music by Brian Eno: attractive in itself, and well suited to dance, but doing nothing for a narrative, nor ever intended to do so.
However, it does allow Wallace, a former ENB dancer turned freelance choreographer, to invent dance sequences as varied in speed and mood as in structure, often with unusual overtones: Chang's solo, for instance, rings the changes intriguingly, in rhythm and pattern, on the usual masculine display number.
Simple star-studded panels (Wallace's own design) provide an attractive background, and often unexpected costume details by Caroline Harris help a cast of 10 dancers to suggest greater numbers.
Even though I'm not convinced that Hollywood Smash & Grab does all that its creator hoped or intended, it is quite entertaining; more so, probably, than the other new works in ENB's Tour de Force season. And it does make its dancers look good, the whole group, not just those who have feat- ured spots.
Touring until 3 May (020-7581-1245; www.ballet.org.uk)
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