These are bleak days – war in Europe, a cost of living crisis and on ENB’s opening night there was even snow falling unseasonably outside the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. If ever we were in need of joy, surely it is now.
Step forward (in every sense) William Forsythe. English National Ballet has with remarkable foresight sensed our need and given over an entire programme to Forsythe’s work. He is a unique choreographer as is evident in the two works that make up this programme.
The first, Blake Works I is set to seven songs from James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything. Each of the songs has a different combination of dancers – there are 21 of them in all. They appear dressed as for class and assume perfect balletic poses – until there’s a sudden hip shot, jazz arms, a body ripple. This is a Forsythe trademark and the company performs to perfection his blend of rigorous classical training with skippy, witty syncopation.
Forsythe’s choreography is complex – the steps come so fast you don’t blink in case you miss something. There are complex relationships too, notably in the duet, sensitively danced by Emily Suzuki and Isaac Hernandez. At other times, the whole ensemble is on stage at once, every nuance of the music reflected in the dancers’ bodies.
The second piece is Playlist (EP). It’s an extended (as in extended play) version of an earlier Playlist that Forsyth created for ENB back in 2018. Set to a range of music by different artists (Peven Everett, Lion Babe, Khalid, Barry White, Natalie Cole) it starts with a male chorus line stepping side to side then gradually building up to bounces and leaps and choreographic complexities that show off the athleticism and rigorous training of this company. Masculinity, virtuosity and fun.
This was all seen back in 2018. What wasn’t seen back then were the sections with the female half of the company joins in. In Vegas they dance to the kind of music you’d dance to in a club – albeit in a rather different way from most of us. Witty and charming, it’s followed by the aptly named Impossible in which the men come back to perform just that in their turns and leaps. The audience is whooping at this display of classical sass.
There’s more to come. Location features the dazzling Precious Adams and James Streeter. The entire company returns for Sha La La Means I Love You and every dancer is right at the top of their game. Then Adams and Streeter return for This Will Be (An Everlasting Love). You may not know whether you’re looking at the corps or a chorus line but who cares?
On opening night, Forsythe (72) joined the dancers at the end of the performance and joined in, too, with the improvised dancing curtain call. Most of the audience were doing the same.
The Forsythe Evening is on at Sadler’s Wells until 10th April. For more information and tickets, please visit www.sadlerswells.com.
Photos by Laurent Liotardo