English National Ballet, legacy of the Ballets Russes

English National Ballet, legacy of the Ballets Russes | Danza Ballet 

English National Ballet celebrates the legacy of the Ballets Russes in a season of heritage pieces and new work at the London Coliseum.
Beyond Ballets Russes. London Coliseum, 22 March – 1 April.

English National Ballet’s Beyond Ballets Russes season continues the collaborative spirit of Diaghilev, by bringing together people of great creativity to re-imagine some of the iconic Ballets Russes ballets.

Following the huge success of the Ballets Russes season at Sadler’s Wells in 2009, English National Ballet once again re-stages some of the great Ballets Russes works. Alongside these heritage pieces, the Company is following in Diaghilev’s footsteps by creating new work, collaborating with exciting new talent in the worlds of design and choreography. The Ballets Russes performed around the world in the early 20th Century, under the leadership of Impresario Serge Diaghilev, who collaborated with major choreographers, composers, artists and dancers of the time including Pavlova, Picasso, Debussy, Chanel, Matisse and Nijinsky to produce ballets which still influence the worlds of dance, art and design today.

English National Ballet’s Beyond Ballets Russes season continues the collaborative spirit of Diaghilev, by bringing together people of great creativity to re-imagine some of the iconic Ballets Russes ballets.

Programme 1
22 – 27 March
L’après-midi d’un faune, Faun(e),
WORLD PREMIERE Firebird, The Rite of Spring

Programme 2
28 March – 1 April
Apollo, WORLD PREMIERE Jeux, Handsome Young
Chap’s solo from Le Train Bleu, Suite en Blanc

To celebrate the centenary of L’après-midi d’un faune (first performed in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 29 May, 1912), two versions of the short ballet, set to Debussy’s music are staged. The first is Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1912 original, with costumes and sets by Léon Bakst, revived by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke. This is seen alongside David Dawson’s Faun(e) which was created in 2009, and features two male dancers performing a duet to the famous music arranged for double piano. Performed alongside the two Faunes will be a new Firebird choreographed by young British choreographic hope George Williamson. Williamson studied at English National Ballet School, where he choreographed several pieces for the students. After graduating from the School, Williamson danced in Warsaw with Polish National Ballet and also created works for the Company there. He left Warsaw in 2011 to focus on his choreographic career. This is his first major commission.

George commented “I want to create innovative work in the classical language to explore current issues and ideas, which will attract a new generation to ballet, collaborating with a wide variety of artists to show that ballet can create a new voice in the future. My style is rooted in the classical language but combines contemporary and modern movement.” The costumes are by David Bamber, who has designed for many of the world’s leading fashion houses including Gucci and Tom Ford, with the make-up created by MAC Senior Artists. Cast as the Firebird are Emerging Dancer Nominee Ksenia Ovsyanick and British dancer Laurretta Summerscales – who studied with Williamson at Englis National Ballet School – in their first created roles. Esteban Berlanga and James Forbat are cast as the Peacock.

Programme 1 culminates with Kenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring, with costumes by British fashion designer Kinder Aggugini, who creates a new and dramatic look for 2012 with make-up created by MAC Senior Artists. The Rite of Spring was composed between 1912 – 1913 by Igor Stravinsky and Diaghilev asked his leading male dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to choreograph the piece, which is a vision of a pagan ritual in which a young girl dances herself to death as a sacrifice to the God of Spring. The premiere in Paris famously inspired riots from an audience shocked by the rhythmic complexity and primitive choreography, although it has been suggested that Diaghilev himself orchestrated the trouble to generate publicity. Kenneth MacMillan’s visceral and energetic version was created in 1962 and is seen as one of the finest interpretations of the ballet. English National Ballet has been performing it since 1999 and these performances feature Erina Takahashi and Tamarin Stott as The Chosen One.

Commenting on the collaboration, Kinder Aggugini says; “I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to redesig MacMillan’s ballet. The guidelines for ballet costumes are quite strict, so on top of an appearance one has to consider functionality and durability. I guess it’s a bit like designing a Batman outfit, but in this case there was also a clear vision from one of the most revered British choreographers who created possibly the most successful version of this Ballets Russes piece. This is what makes this project so special – it’s not just a costume, it’s the resurgence of an iconic work of art.”

The MacMillan Estate embraces the idea of redesigning MacMillan’s ballets, keeping the productions alive and fresh for today’s audience.

Programme 2
Every Principal dancer in the Company is featured in this extraordinary programme, giving audiences the opportunity to see the incredible array of talent within English National Ballet. Programme 2 opens with Apollo with costumes designed by Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel. Chanel has a long association with the ballet; Coco Chanel herself designed costumes for both Le Train Bleu in 1924 and the original costumes for Apollo (originally Apollon musagète) in 1929. Apollo was created in 1928 by George Balanchine, with music by Stravinsky. The story centres around Apollo, the god of music, who is visited by three muses; Terpsichore, muse of dance and song; Polyhymnia, muse of mime; and Calliope, muse of poetry. These performances have been staged by Nanette Glushak.

The Lagerfeld Apollo costumes were originally designed in 1997 for the Monte Carlo Ballet, who have kindly given their permission for English National Ballet to use the costumes again. They were first seen in London at Sadler’s Wells in 2009.

Suite en Blanc offers an array of virtuoso solos for the Company’s established and rising stars. Choreographed by Diaghilev’s star dancer Serge Lifar (who was the original Apollo) Suite en Blanc is internationally acclaimed as a neoclassical showpiece which displays elegance and technical virtuosity. English National Ballet is delighted to perform Suite en Blanc again, following critically acclaimed performances at the London Coliseum in 2011, to prove once again the Company’s pedigree in a bravura showcase of classical ballet, staged by Maina Gielgud.

Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train Bleu is a ballet in one act with music by Darius Milhaud inspired by the luxury French train which carried wealthy and exotic travellers from Paris to the Côte d’Azur, the most desirable holiday destination by the sea. Beyond Ballets Russes features the Handsome Young Chap’s solo from the ballet, a role which was originally created by Anton Dolin, co-founder of English National Ballet. The original production premiered in Paris on 20 June 1924 with the front cloth designed by Pablo Picasso and costumes taken directly from Coco Chanel’s Summer collection that year.

Vaslav Nijinsky’s Jeux was created in 1913 with music commissioned from Claude Debussy and designs by Léon Bakst. In 1978 the director Herbert Ross asked Kenneth MacMillan to choreograph the dance sequences for his film Nijinsky, based on the archival evidence of the 1913 original, which is here recreated and expanded by Artistic Director Wayne Eagling especially for this Beyond Ballets Russes season*.

*An unconnected one-act version was created for The Royal Ballet in 2000 by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer.

English National Ballet, legacy of the Ballets Russes | Danza Ballet
English National Ballet Beyond Ballets Russes Ksenia Ovsyanick as the Firebird, make-up by MAC – photos Diego Indraccolo

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