Well you can’t blame them for trying. “Black & White: featuring the Black Swan pas de deux” was the cringe-making publicity for the English National Ballet’s mixed programme. It didn’t however draw the critics’ attention away from the real gem of the evening:
Suite en Blanc is a little-seen ballet by Serge Lifar, the last star of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, that has been neglected for 35 years.
English National Ballet revived it last night, and you could sense the audience’s collective disbelief that such a clever, intriguing and intricately patterned work should be so under-performed.
said Sarah Frater in The Evening Standard. Well it hasn’t been completely neglected for the Australian Ballet revived it in 1981, and in fact it is Maina Gielgud, the company’s ex-artistic director, who has remounted the ballet for the ENB. The Paris Opera Ballet, for whom it was created in 1943, also have it in their repertoire.
The ballet is a plotless exhibition piece, a ballet about ballet, with solos, duets and group dances that show off the dancers’ harmonies and doily delicacies. It features four lead couples, and a corps, some wearing long ballerina dresses, others in short tutus. Apart from the occasional skew-whiff line and uneven patterning, the dancers were tip-top, with Anais Chalendard, Jia Zhang and Fernanda Oliveira especially elegant in leading roles.
It is a clever, well-judged revival that enhances the reputation of both English National Ballet’s dancers and its director Wayne Eagling – every ballet company in Britain will be gnashing its teeth that they aren’t dancing it. Indeed, if Suite en Blanc is any guide, ballet’s problem is not the scarcity of new choreography but the neglect of the old. The only problem with the piece is that it made the rest of the mixed bill feel lacklustre.
Mark Monahan for The Telegraph was less effusive, but enjoyed it enormously,
Closing the bill is the white-clad classical party piece Suite en Blanc, created by Ballets Russes star Serge Lifar way back in 1943, but not danced by ENB since 1976. A sub-Balanchinian but very charming affair (set to a boisterous Edouard Lalo score), it launches with the entire company perfectly frozen, mid-position, and then zips through eight neatly framed ensembles and solos…
… ENB perhaps lacks the quantity of top-drawer personalities to make this sort of showcase shine at its brightest. Still, Crystal Costa’s combination of “Hello Boys!” brio and rubber-ball bounce in the Pas de Cinq is irresistible, Elena Glurdjidze dances so-called “Cigarette” solo with a similarly musical blend of instinct and rigour – gracefully coquettish hands, too – and the company as a whole has great, infectious fun.
Phtot credit: ENB’s Vue de l’autre, Elena Glurdjidze ©Alastair Muir