Theatregoers in Milton Keynes are in for such a treat this October as English National Ballet is bringing not one but two award-winning productions to the new city. Whether you are a dedicated dance fan or simply interested in enjoying a beautifully performed work of art, you will not want to miss out on seeing the company during its autumn visit to Milton Keynes Theatre.
Artistic director Tamara Rojo is committed to showing that there is more to ballet than the tutu-and-tiara-wearing ballerinas featured in the classics. As the driving force behind the company and a prima ballerina herself, Tamara is intent on advancing the art form in order to keep it relevant, interesting and alive for future generations to enjoy. The reflective triple bill Lest We Forget is her first new commission for English National Ballet. Created to commemorate last year’s centenary of the First World War, this contemporary programme features the choreography of three of the most in-demand British dance-makers of today.
Romeo and Juliet is undeniably the world’s greatest love story. Rudolf Nureyev’s landmark production for English National Ballet was devised in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. It premièred at the London Coliseum on 2nd June 1977 and won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best Ballet Creation that year. The company has since performed Nureyev’s production around the world (373 times!) to critical acclaim. Demonstrating the expressive artistry and explosive virtuosity of the company’s dancers, Romeo and Juliet is a beloved masterpiece from English National Ballet’s repertoire, which promises to prove popular with balletomanes and newcomers alike.
A grand total of sixty performers faithfully bring Shakespeare’s tragedy to life on a grand scale, with sumptuous sets and costumes. The dancers are accompanied by Prokofiev’s dramatic score, which is played live by English National Ballet Philharmonic. With thirty sword swipes between Romeo and Tybalt; twenty-four arabesques; twenty-two lifts; and five kisses … this Romeo and Juliet has all the drama, dance and romance you could ever desire.
Lest We Forget moved audiences, critics and even the cast members themselves during its run at the Barbican in 2014 and this year’s London revival at Sadler’s Wells. Milton Keynes Theatre is one of only two venues outside the capital to be welcoming Lest We Forget (the other venue is Palace Theatre, Manchester). Winner of this year’s South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance, Lest We Forget features three works expressing the experiences of those who fought in the war and those who stayed behind.
No Man’s Land by Liam Scarlett is an emotional exploration of relationships in war, focusing on the loss and longing felt by the women who remained at home. Featuring fourteen dancers (seven male and seven female), his choreography evokes the entwined destinies of the women working in the factories at home and the men fighting in the trenches.
Soloist Alison McWhinney said: “Being part of the creation of the piece ‘No Man’s Land’ was a pleasure from beginning to end. Liam Scarlett was so amazing to work with, always inspiring. We all felt very involved in creating his ballet.”
Russell Maliphant’s hypnotic Second Breath is a large ensemble piece about the sacrifice of men in war.
First Soloist Junor Souza said: “Getting to grips with his movements was so very different from any other contemporary technique I’d done before. During the rehearsals, Russell introduced his own company dancers to demonstrate to us how the steps should look, which was extremely beneficial.”
First Artist Tamarin Stott added: “Throughout the creative concept we really learned a great deal about Russell’s techniques so that the transition from our classical technique felt a very natural adjustment. Just being part of this original process was an amazing and rewarding experience, one that I want to pass on to future generations.”
Akram Khan’s Dust looks at the empowerment of women in war and how they became the main workforce in the country. This arresting piece for twenty-four dancers was named winner of Best Modern Choreography at the 2014 Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards.
English National Ballet became the first ballet company to perform on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury when it was invited to perform Dust to an audience of over 30,000 people in 2014.
Soloist James Streeter was blown away by the experience. He said: “It is fantastic for the company to be recognised. It’s always incredible when you walk out on a stage and you feel the energy from an audience. The power they have, it can almost knock you back off your feet.”
Tamara Rojo said: “Commissioning new dance works that push the boundaries of ballet is at the core of our vision. It is always a risk, but the reaction from critics and our audiences has been astounding, humbling and incredibly moving.”
Looking forward to the autumn tour, she added: “Touring to audiences outside of London is something I think is truly important, and I am very proud that this season we will present both full-scale ballets and new works.”
English National Ballet performs Lest We Forget at Milton Keynes Theatre on Tuesday 20 October at 7.30pm and Romeo and Juliet from Thursday 22 to Saturday 24 October 2015.
I also wrote previews for:
Update 21 October 2015: Read my review of English National Ballet’s Lest We Forget at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Update 23 October 2015: Read my review of English National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.