sun 21/12/2014

Firebird/ Rite of Spring, English National Ballet, London Coliseum | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Firebird/ Rite of Spring, English National Ballet, London Coliseum

ENB plucks a bold young talent and a stunning performance out of a Ballets Russes mixed bag

More of a video-game avatar than magical being: Ksenia Ovsyanick as the Firebird© Diego Indraccola/ENB

Two amazing things in one evening from a company totally at sixes and sevens artistically - it could only be English National Ballet. First amazing thing: the uncovering of a confident and stylish young choreographer straight from school. Second amazing thing: the radical redesign of a modern classic with stunning flair and a performance that’s got to be one of the shows of the year, whatever else happens.

While the fights between ENB’s Board and its artistic directors are one of those dependable balletic traditions, like Nutcracker at Christmas, and their firings inevitable (bye-bye, Mr Wayne Eagling, this summer), there’s a swagger in ENB that can spring surprises you don’t get in the other ballet companies. While its budget has forced it into some lamentable programming in the past couple of years (this season, wall-to-wall Strictly Gershwin) who’d have predicted that it would place a prominent bet on a 20-year-old choreographer, giving him a major fashion designer and one of the most ravishing and iconic of Stravinsky ballet scores?

These characters look like video-game avatars - today's world of magic

George Williamson is undoubtedly a talent to watch. What we saw was a very young man’s viewpoint on ballet - more about physical glitter and styling, more about, yes, swagger than about magic and strange encounters between worlds. But boy, what confidence as he moved his lithe, rather reptilian Firebird with her flamboyant gold crest around the stage between two opposed couples and some rather Goth muses in shredded purple.

These characters look more like video-game avatars - today's world of magic - and their moves have the faintly surreal slink of Russian “artistic gymnastics”. I didn’t understand the dramaturgy; characters are named Lead Celebrity, Army Captain, Purity, Peacock, and they pull the Firebird’s golden feathers off her head and wear them themselves, before tidily putting them back again on her crest. Yet some eternal fairytale ingredients surface: the bad girl, the good girl, the magical being, the man flying too close to the sun, the commenting corps de ballet. In between the showy gestures there’s a lot of detailed ballet language, swift and varied. The physicality shouts out how different dancers are from us lumpy mortals seated watching them, and that’s to be expected when a young man and a fashion designer get together in today’s world. This Firebird doesn't make me want to see it again, but it does make me want to see Williamson again.

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