Lest We Forget by the English National Ballet performed at Sadler’s Wells is a beautiful piece of art. With two intervals this classic ballet is heavily influenced by contemporary styles without abandoning the more classical techniques.
The first piece is No Man’s Land, choreographed by Liam Scarlett. Solo pianist Julia Richter plays an outstanding accompaniment to this truly stirring performance. Blue dresses and brown leather cascade around the bleak setting of a desolate place which has the feeling of a factory line warehouse for the war. As a novice watching ballet, the designers do the work for you. The lighting focuses you onto the next story and the subtle breaks from the uniformity of the dancers indicate who to follow next.
The focus of No Man’s Land is the theme of the men and women at war imagining loved ones left behind. I enjoyed the use of contemporary influences within the ballet, such as having the women cough at the dust and wring their hands, small gestures which stood out immensely in the fluid piece. The lead principles of this piece wove a heartbreaking and effortless story, skilled actors as well as impressive dancers.
The second piece called Second Breath, directed and choreographed by Russell Maliphant, was very different to the first. Maliphant doesn’t follow a narrative, and instead uses the dancers to create something very emotive. The style of the piece was acrobatic, men constantly falling and tumbling elegantly into sculpture-like tableaux.
Second Breath has a moving strength and darkness to it, particularly as the setting is in almost literal darkness, inspiring a feeling of the dreamscape. I did overhear an older gentlemen complain that the lighting was too low and as he couldn’t see some of the dancer’s movements he wasn’t getting his money’s worth, however I’d imagine designer Michael Hulls did this intentionally. When dancers do hit the light it is truly beautiful and haunting.
The music was contemporary and electric with recorded voices from the Imperial War Museum and segments of Dylan Thomas poems over the music enhancing the surreal edge to this piece. Overall Second Breath had a less clear narrative structure, but was much more exciting.
Akram Khan’s Dust was yet again completely different to what I expected from the English National Ballet. This is a raw and organic-feeling performance, which begins in silence with a man’s isolated back as the focus. A hard set implying the trenches gave the piece an atmosphere of incredible strength. There was some truly unique choreography with the dancers creating their own trenches and wave movements with their arms, to the most ambidextrous duo literally turning their bodies into one person. My personal highlight of the whole show was within this piece, where the female ensemble’s hammering movements of the factory line was especially powerful and intense.
As someone who wouldn’t normally go to the ballet, I would recommend Lest We Forget as a brilliant first insight into the world of ballet performance and a great introduction to the art form. I know for me it will inspire future visits.
Lest We Forget plays Sadler’s Wells until 12 September 2015. For more information and tickets see the Sadler’s Wells website.