The latest neoclassical programme from New English Ballet Theatre is The Four Seasons / Remembrance, a stylish double bill that combines the abstract and the historical.
The vibrant young modern ballet company prides itself on creating refreshing new works for developing dancers, thereby furthering the art form and nurturing promising artists. Indeed, artistic director Karen Pilkington-Miksa has been recruiting a fresh batch of dancers each year since founding New English Ballet Theatre in 2011. These dancers receive a twelve-month contract that affords them training and development opportunities with exciting creatives, as well as coveted time spent dancing on tour and in the West End.
While past offerings have thrown a spotlight on emerging choreographers, The Four Seasons / Remembrance features works from established dancemakers Jenna Lee and Wayne Eagling.
The Four Seasons boldly unites mesmerising music, contemporary movement and atmospheric lighting to reinterpret Vivaldi’s most famous violin concerti. Former English National Ballet soloist Jenna Lee’s choreography is full and varied and clearly driven by Max Richter’s dynamic re-composition of the familiar music.
Indeed, the dancing we see up on the stage is essentially music made visible. The tender optimism of Spring leads into the balmy thrill of Summer, before the rich tones of Autumn morph into the icy spectacle of Winter. The vision is aided by Andrew Ellis’ distinctive lighting design and April Dalton’s quirky costumes – together these creative elements produce striking silhouettes for us to admire.
This is an ensemble work with endlessly shifting patterns of dancers. During each season, lively ensemble action gives way to passionate pairings and sensitive solos before a full cast reunion takes place and whisks us off on the next stretch of the journey. Lee’s choreography blends pure classical ballet technique with flexed positions, innovative lifts and acrobatic tricks to explore line, weight and space. This keeps things interesting and makes the most of the dancers’ virtuosity and versatility.
The musical movements are sandwiched between prolonged blackout pauses, which does unfortunately break the spell somewhat. A few dancers also had moments during their performance, which made me wonder whether the stage was slippery. Overall, though, the vivacious dancing on display ensures there is plenty to enjoy in The Four Seasons.
Remembrance is a new ballet created by world-renowned choreographer Wayne Eagling to mark the centenary of the armistice, which silenced the guns of the First World War.
Unlike the evening’s opener, this ballet has a strong narrative. A story of love and loss set against the backdrop of war, Remembrance is based on the 1918 experiences of dance pioneer Marie Rambert and her conscripted playwright husband Ashley Dukes. Separated shortly after their honeymoon, they stoically suffer through the fear and uncertainty of wartime. Dukes is on the front line in France; Rambert is at home in London with her dancers.
The newlyweds are eventually reunited after the signing of the armistice, but their personal happy ending occurs alongside the suffering, mourning and bravery of an entire nation.
Using Marie Rambert to represent all the women whose men were enlisted works well choreographically. A highlight is when Rambert (Alessia Lugoboni) escapes to the dance studio to free herself from her fear that Dukes will never return. Here, she dances a furious, frightened solo, which empowers her to continue living without her beloved husband by her side.
Other powerful moments include all the pas de deux passages between Rambert (Lugoboni) and Dukes (Alexander Nuttall). Notably, Nuttall towers over the diminutive Lugoboni, yet still manages to evoke romantic sparks rather than the look of a father embracing a child. Also worthy of special mention is the intricate weaving of the wandering, weeping widows.
As it is in The Four Seasons, the music in Eagling’s poignant piece is so much more than just background noise. Remembrance is set to Handel’s Ode for St Cecelia’s Day, a composition ardently performed live by The English Concert baroque orchestra, a choir and two solo singers. The music and vocals generate a sense of solidarity within the auditorium and the singers themselves seem to delight in watching the dancers. United in their storytelling and patriotism, all the performers bring singing and dancing together in a human and heartfelt way.
This daring double bill of dance is a satisfying mixture of story and sentiment, set to absorbing and expressive music.
Seemingly on top form whether staging conceptual compositions or period drama, New English Ballet Theatre is certainly a company to keep an eye on.
For details on future performances from New English Ballet Theatre, visit the company’s website.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.