Ecstasy and Death, by Laura Warner

Tamara Rojo’s first triple-bill programme for English National Ballet promised to be something different. The curtain opens on Petite Mort - a title that refers to an orgasm in French and Arabic – and we’re faced with the dramatic backdrop of scantily clad men clasping swords.

Photography by Chantal Guevara

Through the silence, only the sounds of swords cutting through the air can be heard. Six ladies-in-waiting watch as the men play around with swords, flinging them round their heads in pendulum-like motions. Receiving a few laughs, the ladies – as they scuttle on with silhouettes of Victorian dresses on wheels – provide a release from the display of masculinity. The raunchy, fluidity of Kylián’s choreography contrasts with the politeness of Mozart’s Piano score and the dancers subtly pick up the ornaments and trills in the music with a flick of the hand or head turn creating effective moments.

Le Jeune Homme et la Mort also opens dramatically with the dark music rising out of the orchestra pit to the waiting Nicolas Le Riche. In a role that’s been previously danced by Nureyev and Baryshnikov, he certainly has some big ballet shoes to fill. Le Riche rises to the challenge, his expansive gestures and gravity-defying jumps passionately portray this troubled character. Tamara Rojo herself enters as a Cyd Charisse- like character with black cropped hair and long legs that eat into the space. ‘She uses staccato movement’s en pointe to represent her power, making a fantastic temptress that eventually leads love-forlorn Le Riche away to his death.’

Described in the programme as a ‘long-time favourite of English National Ballet audiences’, the evening finishes with Etudes, proving Rojo is remaining true to the long-term fans of the company by mixing the traditional with the new. The piece takes us through a ballet class, from barre work to centre exercises and finishing with feats of athleticism. The Company show us what they’re really made of with ornate movements, too many fouetté turns to count and an army of ballerinas to conclude. Essentially the choreography feels very ‘cutesy’ and seems to drag on despite fantastic performances by the company. It deprives the audience of the dark, dramatic finish which the beginning of evening promises. Overall it is a cleverly thought out programme with some show-stopping pieces taking English National Ballet to new heights.

Laura Warner