Lest We Forget, English National Ballet, ENB, Barbican, April 2014

One hundred years after the start of The Great War, this commemoration of its horrors opened at the Barbican last night with three new ballets specially commissioned by artistic director Tamara Rojo.

No Man's Land, all images ENB/ ASH

No Man’s Land, all images ENB/ ASH

The evening started with Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land connecting women at home with their men at war via the factory work of making ammunition and explosives. The packing of explosives into shells turned the hands yellow, realised here by yellow gloves in Jon Bausor’s clever designs, and as we see the women working above and behind with the men out front, the music is from Liszt’s Funerailles — used in MacMillan’s Mayerling when Rudolf is alone before his final pas-de-deux with Mary Vetsera.

This and other pieces are all taken from Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et religieuses orchestrated by Gavin Sutherland, except for the final plaintive piece for solo piano, beautifully played by Company pianist Julia Richter. The orchestrated music, at times perhaps over-powerful for the choreography, suffered the disadvantage of being amplified by large speakers at the front of the auditorium due to the small gap for sound to emerge from the pit, and sitting near the front the effect could be over-loud. Wonderful dancing however from the seven couples, three of them matched in expressive pas-de-deux: Tamara Rojo with Esteban Berlanga, Erina Takahashi with James Forbat, and Fernanda Oliviera with Max Westwell.

Second Breath

Second Breath

As the second item, George Williamson’s post-modern take on Firebird seemed out of place in this mixed bill, but was immediately followed by a brief and stirring musical interlude by Cecil Coles (1888–1918), killed by sniper fire a half-year before the end of the war.

That set the scene for Second Breath by Russell Maliphant, which started with the very slightest of movements on stage. As it developed, a recitation of numbers in several languages and the repeated falling of soldiers well expressed the horrors of war, and the soft quality and flow of Maliphant’s choreography, enhanced by Andy Cowton’s music orchestrated by Ben Foskett, created something more than the sum of its parts.



Finally Dust by Akram Khan formed a fitting end to the evening, with Khan’s body movements at the centre of an extraordinary performance. The wave created by the linked arms of the dancers at the start expressed a unity of resolve, well repeated later by the narration of Auld Lang Syne, yet the set design by Sander Loonen, along with Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting gave an eerie sense of disaster when Khan reached the top of the earthworks. Music by Jocelyn Pook, and a fine partnership between Khan and Rojo, gave great power to this contemporary dance piece.

For Tamara Rojo this intriguing mixed bill is a great success, only handicapped by the amplification needed by the Barbican’s lack of a suitable orchestra pit.

Performances (matinee and evening) continue almost every day until April 12 — for details click here.

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