Bausch/Forsythe/Van Manen at Sadler's Wells review: a searing triple bill with a fantastic finale

Melissa York
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ENB performing le sacre du printempsthe life
Bausch/Forsythe/Van Manen

Another night, another thought-provoking triple bill from English National Ballet’s unstoppable artistic director Tamara Rojo celebrating three pioneering 20th century choreographers.

Things kick off with a screech as a small selection from the company leap, push and claw at each other to Thom Willems almighty blast of a score.

Created by New York Ballet wunderkind William Forsythe, the piece, “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, sees the dancers, clad in lycra green jumpsuits, twitch their way through, like a cross between those embarrassing street fights in West Side Story and Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s undoubtedly a great showpiece for the principle dancers, but it’s all frightfully, eagerly modern, particularly if you can’t abide the overloud, clanging soundtrack.

“Adagio Klammerklavier”, the second piece by Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen was more sedate and mournful, as you would expect from an adagio. With this piece, he set out to disprove George Balanchine’s golden rule that you can’t dance to Beethoven. Skilfully slow and considered, a trio of pairs dance a deliberate dirge that’s certainly something to be admired, if not to fall in love with.

The real showstopper is saved for last: the Rite of Spring or le Sacre du Printemps as it’s billed here. It combines Stravinsky’s memorable but, at times, difficult score – played live and to perfection here by the English National Ballet Philharmonic – with Pina Bausch’s convulsive and often violent choreography.

The stage is covered in soil – an odd theatrical trend of late, coming after a very muddy A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Young Vic – transformed into a primitive field where a tale of lust, shame and subsequent tragedy plays itself out in gripping fashion.

ENB is only the second company in the world given permission to perform this piece and the company rises to the occasion. Madison Keesler, playing the girl who becomes a woman scorned, gives a blisteringly raw performance that sears its way onto your memory.

Though not a perfect line up, Rojo has assembled a fascinating evening of contemporary dance with a blow-your-socks-off finale.

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