English National Ballet digital season review – a real Christmas bonus

Sarah Crompton
·2-min read

In her time in charge of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo has made it her business to encourage new choreographers (particularly women) and to stretch her talented dancers. In her ambitious season of new dance films those principles are very much in evidence.

Stina Quagebeur is a company dancer who has been flirting with choreography for a while. With Rojo’s encouragement, she is putting her back into it, and Take Five Blues shows her gaining in confidence and purpose. Like Nigel Kennedy’s take on Bach, Vivace, and Paul Desmond’s jazz standard Take Five, to which it is set, Quagebeur’s work imbues the familiar with a sense of difference, twisting and turning classical vocabulary into jazzy, improvisatory shapes. At one moment the dancers are upright, in snappy pirouettes, the next slouching in low swoops and turns. Shaun James Grant’s atmospheric filming captures the collegiate, relaxed mood.

Senseless Kindness by Yuri Possokhov, his first work for a British company, is more structured in feel, with just a hint of its inspiration in Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate remaining in its dances for two couples. Thomas James’s lush black=and=white filming makes it all look a bit too much like a perfume advertisement; the piece itself is tougher, more interesting, perfectly shaped to Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 1.

Those two pieces are already up to rent for a bargain £3.49 each. From Monday morning they will be joined by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Laid in Earth, a gothic tale of death and decay, evocatively filmed by James. Then at weekly intervals, there’s Russell Maliphant’s Echoes, a propulsive and transfixing procession of dancers under Panagiotis Tomaras’s lights, filmed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt; and finally, Jolly Folly, Arielle Smith’s vivacious tribute to silent movies, shot by Amy Becker-Burnett.

It feels like a real Christmas bonus to have such impressive films so widely available; they reveal a company in fine, bold form.