How lucky we were to have the opportunity to see two amazing dance performances within a week by a world-class ballet troupe, right on our doorstep on stage at Milton Keynes Theatre!
English National Ballet is currently touring its productions of Lest We Forget, a groundbreaking series of reflections on the First World War as interpreted by three leading choreographers, as well as Rudolf Nureyev’s beautiful Romeo & Juliet.
Both shows were superb, in very different ways. And for those who missed them, both are on stage at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, at the end of November.
Thankfully, it was a gentle introduction to Lest We Forget, with Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land, which examined the relationship between the men sent off to war and the women back at home working in the munitions factory, with lyrical pas de deux between individual couples, fraught with longing, to a beautiful score by Liszt. Tamara Rojo’s performance in the final pas de deux was spellbinding.
Acts 2 and 3 became progressively darker, as the dance became more contemporary.
Indeed, after the first interval, I felt I couldn’t adjust my eyes or my mind in time to cope with the abrupt change of tone and focus in Second Breath.
Set in a bleak, barren landscape, to a background of recordings from the time, dancers used their bodies in completely different ways, ‘painting with movement’, as choreographer Russell Maliphant, put it - swaying like poppies, using acrobatic techniques to repeatedly form human pyramids as they ‘went over the top’, being repeatedly gunned down.
It was bleak, it was shocking, it was over too soon.
With Act 3 things became even darker. Akram Kahn’s Dust opened with a tortured soul writhing, contorted, on the ground, like a giant insect. It looked painful for the dancer, and it was painful to watch.
Men again went over the top, women worked in the munitions factory, making weapons to kill more men, a deserter was gunned down.
The dance ended with another beautiful pas de deux with the divine Tamara Rojo, this time not on pointe.
The show in its entirety was beautiful, poignant, ugly, haunting, frightening and an unforgettable piece of dance.
Two days later, we were back at Milton Keynes Theatre for Romeo & Juliet.
What a feast for the eyes and the emotions, fullof colour, exuberance and superb storytelling.
Above all, I was impressed by not only the dancing skills of the cast, but their acting skills as well.
The diminutive Erina Takahashi was an stunningly powerful Juliet – her tiny frame seemingly torn apart by the powerful emotions that escalate as the show crescendoes towards its tragic conclusion.
The 14-year-old girl of Act 1, led by others, with movements as unformed as she is in herself, develops before our eyes into a strong, brave and determined young wife, making the inevitable ending all the more heartrending.
Partnered with the spectacular dance skills of Isaac Hernandez as Romeo, they made a superb pair who brought almost unbearable emotional intensity to their performance together.
When Romeo discovered the drugged and sleeping Juliet, then picked her up danced a long duet with her apparently lifeless body, throwing her around almost like a sack of potatoes in his grief and despair, it was heart-stoppingly shocking. Even knowing the story so well, I was willing her to wake up – how could she not?
Other notable performances included Cesar Corrales’ elegantly witty and beautifully acted Mercutio.
Stina Quagebeur and James Streeter were superb as Lady Capulet and Tybalt, and Tamarin Stott was an entertaining Nurse.