Ek/Forsythe/Quagebeur is the latest triple bill from English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells. Here’s a round-up of what some of the critics said with an exclusive photo album by Dasa Wharton.
The programme had two pieces from ENB repertoire, together with an important commission:
The latest programme from English National Ballet spotlights two septuagenarian master choreographers: Mats Ek, who favours narrative dances told from startlingly unconventional angles, and William Forsythe, a fearless experimentalist who can’t help but push ballet into new directions. Their accomplished works bookend a slighter piece by the ENB dancer and talented associate choreographer Stina Quagebeur. [Donald Hutera, The Times]
The programme opened with Blake Works I by William Forsythe. One critic said,
Forsythe’s choreography… lacks variety. Ports de bras hint at classicism but often just flap like windmills. It is abstract to the point of being plain uninteresting, without any sense of relationship between the dancers. How ever accomplished the dancers’ technique, it felt empty, although I understand that, seen from the circle, intricate geometric patterning invisible to those downstairs becomes very clear. [Charlotte Kasner, Seeing Dance]
Though others said,
Playful and energetic, Blake Works I it makes plentiful use of Forsythe’s genius for creating interesting, fleeting groupings of dancers, and relies to a large extent on the men’s athleticism, though the women, too, are given satisfyingly sassy choreography. [Teresa Guerreiro, Culture Whisper]
Blake Works I, by American master William Forsythe, gorgeously scooches a classical structure through seven songs by James Blake. Rigorous, bravura technique is unrolled with easy flair, alongside Blake’s melancholic vocals, aching and cracking.
The dancers look as if they adore this piece: it’s so pleasurable to watch. Flirty hips, swaying shoulders, great woofing leaps: virtuoso stuff, but performed with sheer liquid confidence. The men are superb and Suzuki shines again, grappling with Junor Souza in a wonderfully evasive duet. [David Jays, Evening Standard]
Stina Quagebeur’s Take Five Blues was the filling in the evening’s sandwich:
Stylistically, Stina Quagebeur’s Take Five Blues has similarities with the Forsythe piece – which makes the presentation of the two works side by side a curious programming choice. Still, both are incredibly enjoyable to watch and are brilliantly danced, showing the skill, style and athleticism of the ENB dancers. Originally made as a film during the Covid-19 pandemic, Take Five Blues transfers seamlessly to the stage. It is a joyful, vibrant work that closely echoes the jazz score to which it is set. [The Stage]
Stina Quagebeur’s Take Five Blues suffers from being programmed straight after: she’s working in the same territory as Forsythe, without his sophistication or experience. Which is unfair, because flanked otherwise, hers would seem a very agreeable entertainment: fluent, funky and fun, with a sportily combative edge too. A burgeoning talent, Quagebeur is one to watch. [Rupert Christiansen, The Spectator]
Most eyes were on the new piece, a world premiere by Mats Ek of The Rite of Spring. An almost unanimous thumbs-up from the critics.
Enacted beneath a stark, black cutout of a domestic setting, Ek’s wonderfully satisfying take on The Rite of Spring is fully thought out yet continually surprising. For starters, this deceptively chamber-sized world premiere is more about family than community ritual, as seen in most dance stagings of Stravinsky’s score (rendered thrillingly here by the ENB Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland’s baton). The focus is on the impending marriage of a conspicuously reluctant bride (Emily Suzuki) inexorably steered by her parents (Erina Takahashi and James Streeter) towards an equally nervous groom (Fernando Carratalá Coloma).
More modern dance than ballet, Ek’s Rite is a straight-faced yet witty critique of the pressures of social expectations and gender stereotypes. The narrative unfolds as an expressive ceremony of physicalised emotional behaviour. [Donald Hutera, The Times]
The score speaks for itself, as does Ek’s experienced choreographic craft. He achieves what everyone else is trying to do – simple movement that isn’t simplistic, that also allows for the execution to be the protagonist. His dystopian, patriarchal world is further communicated through enforced, gendered movement. This is also where the design concept comes into play, visually and consequently culturally. Marie Louise Ekman takes us to Japan in the traditional attire and a minimal, black graphic set. The cast wear Haori of differing lengths in soft pink and white, the structured material taking on a Cubist visual and percussive role in action and supplementing Ek’s architectural choreography, often shown in door plane* to emphasise the action. The movement also references the stereotypical, historical roles of Japanese culture. The small, subservient steps of the Geisha; the aggressive, extensive stalk of the Warrior; all of this done with narrative, and emotional intention by the whole cast, regardless of who they are, or where their allegiances lay. [Matthew Paluch, Gramilano]
Best of all, though, is Ek’s spot-on response to the music and its mix of precision and eruption, control and savagery. What we see matches what Stravinsky makes us feel, and for this the ENB Philharmonic under Gavin Sutherland must take some of the credit. Here’s hoping that this ballet company will be brave enough to keep programming this strong, stark Rite. [Jenny Gilbert, The Arts Desk]
It’s a novel idea on paper, has a closing twist you won’t see coming, and thanks to a long, sensual duet for the couple in the second half (what Stravinsky labelled “The Sacrifice”), it’s also far more intimate than most Rites.
The considerable flip side, however, is that the titanic score often dwarfs the action, while the deliberately un-giving package of Ek’s steps (angular, angsty and offering only the occasional novelty) and Marie-Louise Ekman’s stripped-back stage and body-concealing costumes make for an archly ascetic, less than appealing whole. Also, ENB already has Pina Bausch’s world-beating Rite in its rep, besides which, in 1923, i.e. a whisker off a century ago, Bronislava Nijinska (sister of Nijinsky, who’d created the original Rite 10 years earlier) tackled marriage-as-sacrificial-ritual in her astonishing Les Noces. In a world that includes both that, and gripping Rites by everyone from Kenneth MacMillan to Michael Clark, do we, or ENB, really need this new one? I fear not. [Mark Monahan, The Telegraph]
This was Tamara Rojo’s last programme as ENB director and she leaves behind a company in buoyant form with its very own, mostly very enjoyable repertoire. [Teresa Guerreiro, Culture Whisper]
The charismatic artistic director is off now to San Francisco, leaving behind a company that is slightly poorer than she might have hoped (thanks to the Arts Council’s recent round of cuts) but infinitely richer artistically than when she joined a decade ago. [Sarah Crompton, The Guardian]
EK / FORSYTHE / QUAGEBEUR
8 November 2022 at 7pm, Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Blake Works I
Choreography and Stage Design: William Forsythe
Music: James Blake: Songs from The Colour In Anything
Lighting Design: Tanja Rühl, William Forsythe
Costume Design: Dorothee Merg, William Forsythe
Staged by: Ayman Harper, Stefanie Arndt
I Need A Forest Fire
Haruhi Otani, Emily Suzuki, Angela Wood, Julia Conway, Ivana Bueno, Alice Bellini, Isabelle Brouwers, Francesca Velicu, Eireen Evrard, Georgia Bould, Ashley Coupal, Chloe Keneally, Henry Dowden, Erik Woolhouse, Noam Durand, Giogrio Garrett, Fernando Carratalá Coloma, Rhys Antoni Yeomans, Aitor Arrieta, Miguel Angel Maidana, Junor Souza
Put That Away And Talk To Me
Julia Conway, Ivana Bueno, Rhys Antoni Yeomans
The Colour In Anything
Emily Suzuki, Junor Souza
I Hope My Life – 1800-Mix
Miguel Angel Maidana, Henry Dowden, Rhys Antoni Yeomans, Erik Woolhouse, Aitor Arrieta, Giorgio Garrett, Noam Durand, Fernando Carratalá Coloma, Haruhi Otani, Emily Suzuki, Julia Conway, Ivana Bueno, Alice Bellini, Isabelle Brouwers, Francesca Velicu, Eireen Evrard, Georgia Bould, Ashley Coupal, Chloe Keneally, Claire Barrett
Waves Know Shores
Angela Wood, Miguel Angel Maidana, Giorgio Garrett, Henry Dowden, Shunhei Fuchiyama, Isabelle Brouwers, Julia Conway, Eireen Evrard
Two Men Down
Fernando Carratalá Coloma, Aitor Arrieta, Erik Woolhouse, Noam Durand, Rhys Antoni Yeomans, Miguel Angel Maidana, Henry Dowden, Giorgio Garrett
Haruhi Otani, Aitor Arrieta
Take Five Blues
Choreography and Costume Design: Stina Quagebeur
Music: Nigel Kennedy, songs from Recital: Take Five (written by Paul Desmond); Vivace; Allegro; Dusk
Lighting Design: Simon Bennison
Aitor Arrieta, Mattew Astley, Julia Conway, Henry Dowden, Katja Khaniukova, Jose María Lorca Menchón, Ken Saruhashi, Lorenzo Trossello, Angela Wood
The Rite of Spring
To Ruben and Anton
Fernando Carratalá Coloma
Aitor Arrieta, Georgia Bould, Ivana Bueno, Anna Ciriano, Noam Durand, Eireen Evrard, Sarah Kundi, Miguel Angel Maidana, Skyler Martin, Rentaro Nakaaki, Fernanda Oliveira, Haruhi Otani, Victor Prigent, Junor Souza, Eric Snyder, Francesca Velicu
English National Ballet
Music Director and Conductor
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.