The English National Ballet, under the leadership of its dancer-director Tamara Rojo, is doing great things at the moment. Following on from its successful run at the London Coliseum earlier this year, the company is at Sadler’s Wells for a short season, in a triple bill of dark intensity.
In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated is William Forsythe’s striking piece, first danced in 1987. Now a modern classic, it showcases the dancers in a high energy, fast-paced work; their limbs in hyper-extended positions and their balances thrillingly off-centre. The small cast shines, with Crystal Costa a pocket powerhouse of explosive energy and Precious Adams constantly drawing the eye with her luscious expansive movement.
The second piece – Hans van Manen’s Adagio Hammerklavier, set to a Beethoven piano sonata – slows the pace of the evening down. Danced serenely by three couples, it is a pretty ballet with only the occasional flexed foot as a choreographic surprise. Of the six dancers, Tamara Rojo excels – her exquisite feet making the most of every movement, her pliant back curving ever backwards. (After the ballet she made a quick change into an elegant black dress and took her place in the stalls to watch her company tackle the final ballet of the evening – ever the glamorous ballerina!)
The last work on the bill was what most of the audience had come to see: the widely anticipated company premiere of Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Many companies have tackled The Rite of Spring, set to Stravinsky’s wildly compelling score (the Royal Ballet’s version by Kenneth MacMillan is, perhaps, the best known in the UK) but the ENB’s acquisition of Bausch’s stunning work is a real coup.
The original work, with choreography by Nijinsky, caused a riot in the audience, when it received its premiere in Paris in 1913. Bausch has put her own thrilling interpretation on the tribal, almost feral music, and the dancers respond magnificently, shaking, convulsing and pulsing to the incessant beat of Stravinsky’s famous score. This is quite a feat in itself for the classically trained dancers, as the impulse is down towards the earth rather than an endless attempt to defy gravity and appear weightless, which is what classical ballet all about.
The women are in flimsy shifts and the men are bare-chested as they dance upon a reddish brown mud (the stage hands earned their own applause during the interval when they were raking the mucky stuff all over the stage). The end – when the chosen one (performed with passion by Francesca Velicu) dances herself to death – remains shocking.
The English National Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells until 1 April. Box office 020 7863 8000.