Lest We Forget Masterclass

Whilst the thought of war typically evokes images of soldiers and trenches, there are many aspects to and ways of approaching the subject. English National Ballet’s latest show, Lest We Forget, celebrates the centenary of World War I with three new works by renowned choreographers Russell Maliphant, Akram Khan and Liam Scarlett.

Scarlett’s No Man’s Land considers the romance of war – how love kept people going and then was lost or rekindled once the war was over. He is using newly orchestrated versions of piano music by Franz Liszt, who he describes as “one of the most romantic and heart-breaking of composers”, and sets which are inspired by “fragments of ideas” such as the skin discolouration experienced by women working in ammunitions factories.

At the Markova House masterclass last week, Scarlett coached First Soloist James Forbat and First Artist Madison Keesler in a lyrical and intimate pas de deux, stopping the dancers every few seconds to emphasise the details of his choreography. At one point, Keesler curled her upper back as Forbat’s arms enveloped her like backpack straps.

Scarlett explained: “it’s like you’re placing onto her all the weight of worry she carries during the war, but you’re also giving her a hug.”

Go to photo Stage Rehearsal of Liam Scarlett's new work No Man's Land. © Photography by ASH

The choreographer was very precise when it came to the mechanics of his movements and did much more demonstration than any other creator I’ve seen, but he doesn’t always share his ideas with dancers:

“I sometimes give the intentions of my choreography and sometimes let the dancers find their own meanings and interpretations. It’s a careful balance between letting the performers express in their own way and giving enough information so they can convey my ideas effectively to the audience.” Scarlett

Forbat trained at the Royal Ballet School with Scarlett so knows him well, but hasn’t yet worked much with him as a choreographer. He has found the Lest We Forget creative process to be very emotional, but a “fantastic experience”, and a chance to really focus artistically on the subject matter.

Keesler, who only recently joined ENB from San Francisco Ballet, described the poignancy of war: “It’s a difficult and very personal subject… It’s 100 years since WWI, but what’s happening in the world today? More war. I hope these ballets make people think.”

Despite being one of the world’s most in demand classical choreographers, Scarlett remains modest. English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo asked him about a year ago to create a ballet for the company and he says “my jaw hasn’t come back up since”. Whilst it is sometimes difficult to fit his work within a set theme, he likes the challenge of finding his creative voice in different ways, and has loved working with English National Ballet on No Man’s Land.

Alongside a reworking of George Williamson’s Firebird and the new ballets by Maliphant and Khan; Scarlett’s work will be performed at the Barbican from Wednesday 2 April 2014. Tickets are available online now.

By Laura Dodge