Etudes, A Masterclass

English National Ballet hosts regular masterclasses where audience members can observe dancers being coached by internationally-renowned repetiteurs in upcoming repertoire.

On Thursday 28th March, as most of the company departed for the Easter weekend, former Royal Danish Ballet dancer Johnny Eliasen coached sections from Etudes. Part of the April Ecstasy and Death programme at the London Coliseum, the piece is a signature work for English National Ballet, having been performed by the company since 1955. It explores dancers’ daily ballet class, from barre work to centre adage, allegro and pirouettes, alongside delightful music by Carl Czerny.

The ballet is a showcase for dancers at all levels of the company. For Eliasen, “the corps are like the cogs in a clock and the lead dancers are the minute and hour hands. They can’t shine unless everything works in the background.” Interestingly, the masterclass performers being coached in the main roles – Shiori Kase, Arionel Vargas, Ken Saruhashi and Dmitri Gruzdyev – are at vastly different stages of their careers. Saruhashi was in the emerging dancer awards this year and Kase won the competition in 2012. Vargas and Gruzdyev, on the other hand, are established principals who have themselves coached the emerging dancer finalists.

Some parts of Etudes look like complex stage choreography, whereas others appear to replicate studio exercises. Saruhashi and Gruzdyev both have solos which are little more than the repetition of a variety of tricky pirouettes. For Saruhashi, this even includes fouettés, a series of turns on one leg typically reserved for female dancers. In such challenging and unforgiving sequences, every flaw in technique is exposed and there is no option other than to be perfect. Kase has more variety in her role as she shows three different facets of a ballerina. In her first entrance, she must “stand still and sparkle like a diamond”; later, she has a lyrical sylph-like solo and then a dynamic bravura dance.

As the dancers rehearse, Eliasen encourages musicality as well as a feeling of flow in the movement. He is quick to correct when legs are forced too high and places restrictions on the number of pirouettes to be performed; “it’s not circus, it’s ballet.”

Etudes is a joyous work, with plenty of chances for dancers to show off their remarkable skills. Watching it in rehearsal, it becomes obvious why English National Ballet director Tamara Rojo used the word ‘ecstasy’ in the title of the company’s upcoming triple bill.

Laura Dodge