English National Ballet, St Paul's Cathedral, London
In praise of a much-loved pair
Monday 06 July 2009
Dancers trooped through St Paul's Cathedral, climbing on stage and arranging themselves into the ethereal groupings of Les Sylphides. In conventional theatres, that preparation is hidden by curtains. Here, it was part of the show, like the summer evening light and the glitter of the cathedral's mosaic ceiling.
The setting is magnificent, though not without drawbacks. The Orchestra of English National Ballet were seated under the dome, with a raised stage behind them. You swap sightlines for atmosphere: this isn't a great venue for watching footwork. The music boomed and swirled in the echoing stone space. The dancers projected confidently, even without the focusing help of a proscenium arch.
English National Ballet ended its season with this programme, part of the City of London Festival. It was also a farewell for Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur, ENB's much-loved leading couple since 1990. They're returning to their native Estonia, where Edur will direct the National Opera Ballet. Both danced in Les Sylphides, while Edur also choreographed the new Silent Monologues. Danced to music by Heino Eller and other Estonian composers, Silent Monologues fit with the Festival's 60° North theme, linking countries on that line of latitude. Three couples went from a floaty group dance to angsty duets and solos. A woman climbed up a man as he sank to the floor, both struggling with gravity. The final movement, danced to organ music, ended with all six dancers kneeling in prayer, their worries unsolved.
Silent Monologues is an occasion piece, created for this space and these dancers. Though Edur's choreography isn't particularly individual, it's fluent and confident. It gained force from its surroundings: people wrestling with their consciences in a cathedral. The performances were committed.
Elsewhere in the programme, Elena Glurdjidze danced a thoughtful Dying Swan. She was still stuck with the unflattering tutu ENB commissioned from Karl Lagerfeld, but at least it lost the awful feathered ruff. Glurdjidze carries her head well, neck stretched: it was good to be able to see it.
The cathedral acoustic really worked for Peter Maxwell Davies' "Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise", an orchestral interlude. ENB's orchestra can't have many chances to play concert music: they seized on this, with exuberance.
Oaks and Edur, loyal company dancers, ended their ENB careers with an ensemble work, Les Sylphides: sensitive classical dancing rather than fireworks. Moving from its usual forest glade to St Paul's, the ballet kept its sense of mood. The corps were softly assured, framing the soloists with delicate patterns. Crystal Costa and Erina Takahashi made deft, stylish sylphs.
Edur is a princely classical dancer, yearning with lucid romanticism. His jumps are still high, his landings steady, his partnering immaculate. Oaks dances with gentle authority. She's light and quick, presenting Fokine's steps so clearly that she became ethereal. The sylphs grouped and regrouped around them: a fine farewell.
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