English National Ballet commemorates the centenary of the start of World War I in a production entitled Lest We Forget, now in performance at the Barbican – and the critics have been fulsome in their praise – not only of the production, but of the decision by Artistic Director, Tamara Rojo, to stage it.
The Guardian describes it as “a compelling evening … that could well go down as a turning point in ENB’s history”, and The Evening Standard writes of “a brave and brilliant move from director Tamara Rojo”. According to The Independent, the production is both “moving and ambitious”, “melancholic but thrillingly uplifting” says The Telegraph, and the advice from The Arts Desk is to “make this absolutely an evening to catch”.
Marking English National Ballet’s first ever appearance at the Barbican Theatre, Lest We Forget features the work of three award-winning British choreographers – Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett – and it also highlights the first occasion on which Khan and Maliphant have collaborated with a classical ballet company, creating works which reflect the immersion of the traditions of classical ballet into contemporary dance. Completing the programme is Firebird by ENB Associate Artist, George Williamson.
The works by Khan, Maliphant and Scarlett are also the first commissions for the Company by Tamara Rojo. “I wanted an evening of British work,” she said, “and the Great War still has such resonance in British culture and society that the occasion of the centenary was an obvious inspiration.”
Akram Khan’s Dust was inspired, he says, by two things – firstly by the concept of a trench, “….. of the young men and old men all going into trenches, and disappearing”, and also by the part played in the War by the women and what he describes as “the huge social shift” towards them which was created by WWI, a shift in their role which interested him. “They knew they would be letting go of fathers, husbands, and sons; they might lose them,” he explained. “Yet they were making weapons that would kill others’ fathers, husbands, and sons. It didn’t matter which side you were on – they both felt loss and death. But in order for someone to live, someone else was putting their life on the line. That cyclical thing was what I wanted to explore.”
In Second Breath, Russell Maliphant focuses on the men and the sacrifices they made. ENB’s 20 dancers represent the highest number he’s ever worked with in any of his creations, and the challenge, he says, is having a reason to use them all. “There is a sense that you need a lot of people, somehow, for the subject – even if you use just two, you know it’s a reference to thousands, millions.”
No Man’s Land – by Royal Ballet Artist in Residence, Liam Scarlett – explores the relationship between the men who were going to war and the women they were leaving behind – their loss and their longing. “It’s paying respect to how much people went through” he says. “What I’m interested in really is that when the men went off, the women almost took over their roles …. the women were in factories making ammunition, packing explosive into ammunition to be shipped out to them, or making uniforms. In a curious way those objects were the only contact between them. It’s a very lonesome, powerful image. We triumphed and we came through, but it was an intensely sad period.”
Firebird is George Williamson’s first commissioned work for the Company. It had its world premiere at the London Coliseum in March 2012, and earned him a nomination for the Benois de la Danse Award in 2013.
English National Ballet’s Lest We Forget is at the Barbican Theatre until Saturday, 12th April. For more information on the Company and for tickets, please visit the English National Ballet website www.ballet.org.uk.