English National Ballet 2013-14 Season Announcement

Acts of Remembrance and Reform, by Fiona Fraser

Tamara Rojo is the most ambitious woman on the London ballet scene today. As she launched her plans for English National Ballet’s 2014 season at a Press Briefing this week, the A-word peppered her speech. Delicately built, with porcelain skin and blackest hair, Rojo looks like Snow White, but revealed a vulpine appetite for change. Gazing levelly at the cohort of journalists perched on gilt chairs in the luscious Penthouse and Pavilion Suite at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair, she stated in heavily accented English:

 “My intention is to bring the best choreographers from all over the world to English National Ballet.”

That said, Rojo has selected three British choreographers to create new works for her first commissioned bill: Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett. Entitled Lest We Forget, the bill will mark the centenary of World War I. “The Great War still has such resonance in British culture and society” she says.”  A reworking of George Williamson’s Firebird, will complete the programme.

The collaboration with Akram, a classical Indian dance artist, is revealing of Rojo’s ambition and preoccupation with the on-going debate about ballet’s identity. Khan is a big player on the international dance and wider cultural circuit whose work appeals to multi-cultural audiences. This will be his first venture with a ballet company. Khan, who sat beside Rojo at the event, shares her questioning vision. He said that although he was “terrified of ballet dancers” he loved the art form because it is about:

“watching a human being going to the edge of the form – exceeding form. I want ask what is the form saying? And where can we go with it?”

Following in the footsteps of Kenneth MacMillan, who choreographed Requiem (1976) to Fauré’s choral music following the death of John Cranko, and later Gloria (1980) which reflected on the horror of the trenches; Scarlett is planning a requiem of his own.  Akram however, indicated that his work would be about “sacrifice” and the “residue” of war; “the people who are left behind and how they deal with it”. The programme will be performed at the Barbican in April 2014.

Although hungry for innovation, Rojo reminded us of her commitment to “cherish the classics.” Next summer’s blockbuster will be a revival of Derek Deane’s Romeo and Juliet in-the-round (1998) at the Royal Albert Hall. Rojo will return to the role of Juliet, originally created on her by Deane, and co-star with Carlos Acosta, her partner in the Royal Ballet’s 2006 production of Kenneth Macmillan’s version of the ballet.

Widening the company’s repertoire is also one of Rojo’s key ambitions. As a dancer she knows it is essential for new generations of dancers, instrumentalists and audiences to access the classics in order to ensure their survival and keep them fresh. Following the unleashing of Le Corsaire in the British provinces this autumn, the focus falls on Coppélia in 2014. This charming and comic ballet should have guaranteed appeal at the box office in both its conventional form and its children’s version, My First Coppélia, which will be performed by ENB’s student company ENB2, with narration. The children’s version runs to 50 performances over 3 weeks during the national tour.

 

As the Briefing drew to a close Rojo re-emphasised her determination to internationalise ENB. Her pride in the company is clear. Laurretta Summerscales, the People’s Choice winner of the 2013 Emerging Dancer Competition, will compete at the Bejing International Ballet Competition. ENB’s talents will also be showcased on a tour to Madrid in 2014.

Following Nicholas Le Riche’s thrilling performance in Le Jeune Homme et La Mort this spring, there will be more guest artists performing with the company, including, it was hinted, the elusive Polunin. Rojo’s reforming vision has been influenced by her own experience that visiting principals can demonstrate “how far you can go with a role”; they can act as catalysts for change.  How apt it seems that 2013 marks 110th anniversary of one of ballet’s legendary guest performances: the feisty Italian, Pierina Legnani’s 32 fouettés at the Russian Imperial Court. Just as Legnani challenged Russian dancers to attempt ever-more challenging technical feats, today Rojo is pushing her own dancers to reach beyond their limits.

Fiona Fraser