Saturday, 18 November 2017

Always Something Special from English National Ballet: La Sylphide with Song of the Earth

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English National Ballet  La Sylphide. Song of the Earth Palace Theatre, 14 Oct 2017, 19:30

Long before Laverne Meyer set up his Northern Dance Theatre in Manchester, Mancunians had a special affection for English National Ballet. The company, then known as London Festival Ballet, gave its first performance in our city. Every year it returns with something special. Last year, it was the Akram Khan's Giselle.  This year it was La Sylphide with Song of the Earth.

Because it is set in Scotland, I have often argued that it should be our national ballet but very few British companies dance it.  I have seen Danes, Americans, Italians and Australians in kilts but never Scotsmen. The Royal Ballet has a version but they last danced it in 2012 (see La Sylphide on the Royal Opera House website). Scottish Ballet has Sir Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling in its repertoire which was performed brilliantly by Ballet Central last year. One company that would be ideally placed for this ballet is Ballet West which is actually situated in Gurn and Effie country. I have begged Daniel Job to stage this work but for some reason or another, it is just not possible.

To my mind, it is much more satisfying than Giselle.  I prefer Løvenskiold's score to Adam's any day and the idea of the ghosts of spurned maidens dancing their lovers - or indeed any other man who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - to death gives me the heebie-jeebies.  The story in La Sylphide is so much more reasonable even if it does have mythical creatures like sylphs and witches.

The version that English National danced last month was Andersen and Kloborg's version rather than the Peter Schaufuss's which was previously in its repertoire. The Queensland Ballet brought it back to London in 2015 and I reviewed it in A dream realized: the Queensland Ballet in London 12 Aug 2015. I liked both versions very much but if I had to opt for a favourite it would have to be the Andersen and Kloborg. It has a certain lightness of touch and parts of it such as the fruitless search for the hidden sylph and her cheeky leaps across the stage are even quite funny.

Jurgita Dronina was a perfect sylph. Playful, ethereal, enticing. Easy to see why James was led astray on his wedding day. Isaac Hernández was that wayward James. Magnificent with his jumps and turns but so weak of resolve.  Giorgio Garrett was the scheming Gurn.  Jealous and treacherous, catching Effie of the rebound. I felt glad not to be in her shoes as the wedding procession made its way to the kirk in the final scene. Anjuli Hudson played poor, sweet Effie.

My favourite character in any production of La Sylphide is, of course, Madge. The bag lady turned away from the fire by a mean-spirited James. Her dance with the other witches at the start of Act 2 is chilling and thrilling.  Her's is a dramatic role not easy to perform. Justice was done to it, however, by 
Stina Quagebeur.

A particular pleasure for me was to see Sarah Kundi as Effie's confidante, Anna. Sarah is a dancer that I have admired for many years. She led me to Ballet Black and I have followed her closely at ENB. Even though I have long been one of her fans and also support Chantry Dance and the Chantry School I had never actually met her. As we follow each other on Twitter and Facebook I asked her how she would feel about meeting two of her fans after the show. No problem was the reply so Gita and I, together with Helen McDonough waited for her at the stage door. Gita, who is a champion chef had prepared a little Diwali treat for her.

Often when a fan meets a favourite artist it is something of an anticlimax. But not with Sarah!  She was as charming and gracious in real life as she is delightful to watch on stage. She accepted Gita's gift and chatted about her roles for several minutes until she had to board the coach that was to take the company from the theatre. Helen, who was armed with an autograph book, got several signatures that night including Sarah's. 

Meeting one of my favourite artists went a long way to offsetting my only disappointment of the evening,  For some reason or other the local authority had closed Albert Square for an event but had failed to give adequate warning. The result was gridlock and chaos as we approached the theatre. I managed to drop Gita at the theatre steps minutes before the curtain was due to rise.  I had to park. I had to drive to the top of the multistorey to find a seat which meant that I missed the start of the show. Consequently, I was obliged to watch Song of the Earth on a flickering monitor with crackly sound in a noisy bar. I had chosen that performance expressly to see Tamara Rojo and, sadly, I missed her,

But it was still a great evening and I still have the chance of seeing Song of the Earth at the Coliseum in the New Year.

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