Latest Review – Song of the Earth / La Sylphide [English National Ballet] [Palace Theatre, Manchester]

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in La Sylphide. Image © Laurent Liotardo


English National Ballet

Palace Theatre, Manchester

Until Saturday 14th October, 2017

Following their acclaimed 2016 production of Akram Khan’s Giselle, English National Ballet now return to Manchester with a unique double-bill of two short, yet utterly contrasting ballets, Song of the Earth and La Sylphide, the latter being a surprising new addition to the Company’s vast repertoire.

The double-bill opens with Kenneth MacMillan’s much lauded one-act Song of the Earth, first performed in 1965 and now staged as part of the Royal Opera House’s Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration, commemorating the 25th anniversary of MacMillan’s death in 1992.

Inspired by Gustav Mahler’s great six-part song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, MacMillan’s minimalist ballet marked a significant turning point in his career, staged just prior to his move into full-length traditional ballets. Interestingly his idea for a new commission based on Mahler’s score was originally refused by the Royal Ballet back in 1959, having been deemed an unsuitable accompaniment for use in ballet, though following a successful premiere at Stuttgart’s Württembergische Staatstheater in 1965, the Royal Ballet board soon changed their minds and introduced the piece into the Company’s repertoire just six months later.

Accompanied by Australian tenor Samuel Sakker and New Zealand born contralto, Rhonda Browne – who perform each of the demanding songs in turn (and in impressive style) – Song of the Earth uses non-classical movements and an unorthodox, modernist approach to convey an enigmatic tale of love, morality and the fragility of life, though for all its ambition, it is a piece hampered by some unfortunate technical errors, with a stripped back staging that feels too at odds with the rich, evocative nature of Mahler’s music.

The great Tamara Rojo, Jospeh Caley (who many will know from his time at Birmingham Royal Ballet) and Jeffrey Cirio lead the piece with strong performances as the central trio at the heart of the cycle (The Man, The Woman and The Messenger of Death, respectively), evoking a strong sense of loneliness, isolation and emotion, though within the supporting ranks there is a unfortunate lack of polish and synchronisation, with timing issues present throughout.

Following the first interval, English National Ballet continues its double-bill with the sumptuous and traditionally staged, La Sylphide, completely contrasting the stark, modernism of Song of the Earth with a romantic, two-act classical ballet that revives the depth and texture often missing from the former.

Inspired by Danish ballet master August Bournonville’s original 1836 choreography, here faithfully recreated by the trio of Eva Kloborg, Anne Marie Vessel Schluter and Frank Andersen, La Sylphide proves an enchanting gem of a ballet ripe for rediscovery; this production is nothing short of outstanding.

Fusing a light, whimsical first act with a much darker and mystical second, La Sylphide is a clever combination of European folk and character dances (Act I) and delicate, classical choreography (Act II), flowing beautifully between the bustling, crowded human realm and the delicate, mist-shrouded spiritual realm.

La Sylphide unfolds in a single day and begins on the morning of the wedding between young Scotsman James and his sweet fiancée Effy. When James awakens from a dream to see a mysterious Sylph dancing playfully around his chair he becomes infatuated with the creature, setting into motion a fateful series of events.

Led by the superb duo of Isaac Hernandez and Jurgita Dronina, performances across the board are excellent, characterised by precise movements, fast footwork and fluid leaps, all set to Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s gloriously diverse score.

The Royal Danish Theatre’s production is not to be missed and the design team of Mikael Melbye and Jørn Melin deserve special mention for their work.

Running Times:

Song of the Earth – 70 minutes (approx.)

Interval – 25 minutes

La Sylphide Act I – 30 minutes (approx.)

Interval – 20 minutes

La Sylphide Act II – 25 minutes (approx.)

Total: 2 hours and 50 minutes (approx.)

Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 14th October, 2017

For more information and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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