We might still be in November but Christmas is well and truly on its way now English National Ballet is delighting audiences with its dreamy Nutcracker at Milton Keynes Theatre.
Nothing gets me in the festive spirit quite like hearing the opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score. There are many different versions of this seasonal ballet but the magical music is timeless and immediately evokes feelings of anticipation, enjoyment, excitement, adventure and beauty. Superbly played by English National Ballet Philharmonic, the familiar compositions envelop audience members in a blissful ballet bubble from the overture through to the finale.
The company’s current Nutcracker, choreographed by Wayne Eagling, is wonderfully wintry and whimsical. On a frosty Christmas Eve in Edwardian London a family hosts a celebratory get-together. Among the guests is Drosselmeyer, a magician and maker of toys, and his handsome nephew. Young Clara is besotted with the nephew and eagerly dances with him before receiving a painted wooden nutcracker soldier from the mysterious Drosselmeyer. Thrilled with the gift, Clara happily dances with her new doll until a scuffle with her brother Freddie results in the nutcracker being damaged. Fortunately, Drosselmeyer works his magic to fix the wounded toy before the children are sent off to bed. What happens next is a fanciful adventure. Clara encounters an evil Mouse King, battles with the Nutcracker against an army of mice and travels to the Land of Snow. Later, she is entertained by dancers from all over the world, presented with a pretty posy of waltzing flowers and comes of age dancing with her very own prince.
Incredible dancing. Intense storytelling. Totally immersive. English National Ballet’s new Giselle by Akram Khan is an epic dance experience. Everything about Akram Khan’s Giselle is so inspired that, after joining an elated audience in a lengthy standing ovation, I left Sadler’s Wells utterly convinced that no words will ever do this masterpiece justice.
The company, under the direction of Tamara Rojo is intent on evolving the art of ballet. While still honouring the classical tradition (the dancers begin their Nutcracker season at Milton Keynes Theatre next week), English National Ballet is adding amazing diversity to its repertoire with fresh new works. Following the resounding success of Dust, his piece for the Lest We Forget programme, anticipation has been sky-high for Akram Khan’s Giselle.
In short, Akram Khan’s Giselle is a triumphant re-imagining of the 1841 Romantic Era ballet. All the essential themes — love, betrayal, revenge, the opposing realms of life and death — remain but Khan’s vision teases out the dark undertones that have always been there. Dragged to the surface, these elements are expressed with visceral urgency, arresting intent and harrowing sensibility.
Swan Lake is the epitome of a bucket-list ballet and the English National Ballet production currently in residence at Milton Keynes Theatre is simply stunning.
I must confess to a great affinity for the perennially popular Swan Lake having learned a lot of the repertoire in workshops as a youngster; performed many of the roles in school shows and compulsively viewed countless versions in theatres, on television and online. The swell of the overture is enough to transfix me — listening to Tchaikovsky’s haunting score soothed this scholar during many years of revision throughout school and university. Together, the combination of story, music, choreography and staging makes the ballet a truly touching masterpiece.
Of course, possessing such zeal and knowledge means that with each cumulative performance of Swan Lake I am privileged enough to see, the potential to be disappointed grows. Fortunately, English National Ballet’s touring production had me enraptured on opening night. In fact, I swanned out of the auditorium appropriately moved by such an emotional evening and in awe of the incredible talent within the Company.
English National Ballet returns to Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday with Swan Lake.
Moonlit lakeside scenes of romance and despair; the splendour of a royal palace and the spectacle of a corps de ballet of synchronised swans gliding poetically across the stage make Swan Lake a favourite among dance fans and the perfect introduction for first time ballet-goers.
Swan Lake was Tchaikovsky’s first score for ballet and the haunting music is some of the illustrious composer’s best-known work. The ballet’s 1877 premiere was poorly received but it has since become one of the absolute classics, with demanding technical content and a mesmerising story.
Epic pirate ballet Le Corsaire marks Alina Cojocaru’s debut with English National Ballet, a blockbuster start to the autumn season and a chance for the men to show what they can do.
Pirates, passion and pas de deux thrilled theatregoers at the world premiere of English National Ballet’s epic new production last night. Dazzling dancers from the touring ballet company raised the anchor and set sail on a swashbuckling adventure, with the rarely seen 19th Century classic Le Corsaire (The Pirate), at Milton Keynes Theatre.
A treasure trove of delights awaited audience members keenly anticipating the 7.30pm performance as this three-act ballet features a rich tapestry of plot twists and turns. Loosely based on the 1814 poem ‘The Corsair’ by Lord Byron, it is set in a world of sumptuous Turkish palaces and populated with pirates, exotic slave girls and wealthy male dignitaries. Dramatic rescues, abductions, mutiny, subterfuge, love and betrayal abound as the tale of a dashing pirate and his love affair with a beautiful harem girl unfolds.
Artistic Director Tamara Rojo promised to rejuvenate English National Ballet’s repertoire when she took on the top position last year and this re-imagining of Le Corsaire illustrates her dedication to bringing more varied ballets to the masses.
English National Ballet is the first UK company to stage the complete work (others have extracted famous segments, performing them independently). Consequently, Milton Keynes has played a part in making ballet history with the opening of this spectacular new masterpiece. And, as if this was not excitement enough, last night also marked glittering ex-Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru’s debut with English National Ballet.