English National Ballet

Sadlers Wells

As a ballet reviewer/devotee even I admit it’s reputation as stuffy and conservative is still proving hard to shed. Venues like Sadlers Wells and The Place do their utmost to regularly reinvent the landscape and companies like Ballet Black and Rambert (to name a few) keep banging their drums. But with The Nutcracker and Swan Lake reappearing every year with very little variation, it’s certainly an uphill battle for the public perception of this most varied artform.

Bring in the Cavalry: William Forsythe. A legend in the dance world, extending his 2018-piece Playlist (Track 1, 2) into Playlist (EP). Created for the voices of American initiative the concluding piece looks like the USA took a happy-go-lucky attack on the costumes with a highlighter. The almost 30 dancers dazzle in neon blues and fuchsia pinks. The boys in skin-tight American football outfits, and matching cocky frat boy swagger, the girls in a bright pink balletic reinterpretation of the cheerleader’s uniform.

This piece is dedicated to the playfulness of dance, and its ability to amuse, invigorate and uplift. Peven Everett’s Surely Shortly has the dances grinding with a swinging sexuality that is rarely seen on the Sadlers Well’s stage (*clutches pearls in delighted mock shock). This is orchestrated with such precision by the corps de ballet, never a hand or leg is lifted out of formation, like a murmuration of starlings. They move as one, a testament to the strict training of the English National Ballet. Sadly, the female addition to the extended piece doesn’t feel as fleshed out. As the men fling themselves around to Impossible by Lion Babe and Jax Jones the girls feel rather stranded up in the skies on ponte, disconnected from the earthy reality of the male choreography. Sha La La means I Love You by Barry White brings in some salsa tones that Forsythe’s exuberant choreography leans heavily into, leaping over genre boundaries yet still managing to keep the precision ballet is so known and loved for. Natalie Cole’s This Will Be closes the evening in a triumphant overflowing, as the faces of the dancer’s betrayal guilty smiles as the joy of dancing overcomes the need for facial rigidity.

Blake Works I is shockingly set to the music of the experimental singer/producer James Blake and his album The Colour in Anything. Like the twilight electronic and wistful work of Blake, the dancers: in pale shades of blue spin delicately into each other’s arms. A focus on shifting pas de deux’s is heart-wrenchingly sweet, with the music neither over informing the movement nor falling into the background.

However interesting the pieces sit rather uncomfortably next to each other, Blake Works I feels rather earnest while Playlist (EP) is a burst of bravado, bravery, and beauty with a tongue pressed so far into its cheek I’m pretty sure its poking out its eye. Nevertheless, the point is clearly felt. Ballet isn’t dead, dull, or dusty, thanks to ENB and Forsythe for confidently blowing off the cobwebs!