“If all ballets are like this, I’ll come every night”. That is what my ballet newbie friend commented after watching William Forsythe’s Playlist (Track 1, 2), and I bet any occasional ballet-goers at Sadler’s Wells that evening would have felt the same way. The programme, English National Ballet’s Voices of America, was what mixed bills should be all about: a sampler of works that leave you wanting more, that inspire you to discover ballet. Here are a few other reasons why we thought it rocked:
Voices of America showcased impressive corps de ballet work in Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings, it conjured up drama via Robbins’ The Cage, and featured Forsythe x 2: Approximate Sonata 2016, originally made for Paris Opera Ballet, and of course, Playlist, his first work for a UK company in 20 years. This is ENB showing once more its versatility and commitment to making ballet relevant and accessible to new audiences.
Dancers Erina Takahashi and Crystal Costa were superb in the reworked (and much improved) Fantastic Beings. Azsure Barton’s work features unique patterns and groupings, in a mix of classical and contemporary steps. Moving energetically to Mason Bates’s Anthology of Fantastical Zoology, dancers are clad in sleek bodysuits, perhaps aliens from a distant planet under the watchful eye of a creepy overlord (a single blinking eye)? As the piece gears towards its finale, they reappear as hairy creatures, their furry costumes propelling the movement into very cool shapes and effects.
Alina Cojocaru returned from maternity leave to delight us in Approximate Sonata 2016, dancing a role that is both playful (as when, mid-performance, she casually asks her partner Joe Caley to repeat the sequence) and razor-sharp precise. Another highlight in this quirky series of duos was Jurgita Dronina, on double duty that evening, as she was also cast in the leading role of The Novice, alongside Begoña Cao’s sultry insect queen in The Cage.
Strength in numbers
In addition to a roster of principals that include Joe Caley, Aaron Robison and Isaac Hernández, the programme – and in particular Forsythe’s Playlist – also showed the depth of male talent in ENB’s ranks, with Aitor Arrieta, Henry Dowden, Daniel McCormick, Noam Durand, Ken Saruhashi, Barry Drummond displaying technique, batterie and charisma in spades.
Except for Approximate Sonata 2016, which is a series of pas de deux, these works also relied on a solid corps de ballet, in deploying large groups. Fantastic Beings features 20 dancers in unison, or coming together in duos, trios and larger groupings to mesmerising effect. The Cage had the ladies moving with military precision, eye on the target, reminding us of their terrifying patterns as the Wilis in Akram Khan’s Giselle.
Speaking to Sarah Crompton last month, Forsythe mentioned he wants to add to the conversation on dance as a “complete bunhead” and as a “native ballet speaker”, to question elements like music and visuals, “the choices that contextualise ballet”. It is clear he accomplishes this task with Playlist, an explosion of virtuoso classical dancing, set to music by Peven Everett and Lion Babe (remixed by Jax Jones) and featuring 12 dancers in Burgundy-coloured jerseys with their names displayed on the back, like football players. The steps are classical, but the resulting ballet is LIT.
… while having lots of fun
Who doesn’t love a bit of Center Stage nostalgia? Over here, the scene where bad boy Cooper (Ethan Stiefel) and good guy Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) have their legendary dance-off has always been one of our favourites. Take that idea, multiply it by a 1000, set it to cool music, and give it to a master choreographer and you get Forsythe’s Playlist. The stage ended up being a party that audiences wanted to join. See it for yourselves:
Incredible moment at @sadlers_wells this evening! This was after the show whilst the audience was leaving. Apparently William Forsythe instigated this. Love everything about it and I will never forget tonight… it was electric! Bravo @englishnationalballet and William Forsythe a global treasure ❤️ #williamforsythe#forsythe#genius#enb#sadlerswells#amazing#voicesofamerica @william_forsythe_