Friday, 19 January 2018

'Song of the Earth/La Sylphide' - the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum

Last week we went to see the English National Ballet dance a double bill of 'Song of the Earth' and 'La Sulphide' at the Coliseum. I hadn't seen either ballet before and knew nothing about them but, in hindsight, it was a rather odd pairing. 'Song of the Earth' is almost pure dance whereas 'La Sulphide is full of storytelling. I enjoyed both but I suspect there are better pairings.

'Song of the Earth' is a single act ballet by Kenneth MacMillan set to music by Mahler. It's full of dance and is very elegant, with simple staging and costumes helping to make the emphasis the movements of the dancers. It's split into a number of different movements with different combinations of dancers and dancing. On the evening that I saw it one of the dancers was blatantly out of sync with the others in the first movement and that was rather jarring. It also affected how I saw the rest of the movements, waiting for that dancer to come on and make similar mistakes but, thankfully, he didn't. I enjoyed the dancing but would like to see it again, done properly, and probably with a different ballet to follow on from it.

'La Sylphide' is a very different portion of haggis, with lots of story-telling and characterisation and it was really in the second act that the dancing took off. It's set in a Scottish manor house (cue kilts for everyone) where the laird is due to get married but falls in love with an ethereal fairy - you know it's her because she's the only one in a frothy frock rather than a kilt. For some reason there's an old witch involved and she wants to ruin the laird's life (not sure why) so she casts a spell to make the laird kill his love. This happens when he's in some fairyland glen surrounded by other fairies coming and going.

In a sense, it's a rather daft plot and there wasn't a single bagpipe in the orchestra, but I really liked it. Despite the gloomy ending it's actually great fun. Bright red and yellow kilts added lots of colour to the gloomy manor house set and the fairies flitted about nicely in the magical glen. It's a sad ending - and I still don't understand the witch's role - but I'm pleased I've seen it. A hour of whimsy after the more serious 'Song of the Earth'.

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