Lest We Forget

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Caveat: I occasionally include a non-political post on my blog, and I am then castigated by those whose only interest is politics.  If that’s your position — please look away now!

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to Markova House, the headquarters (for the moment) of the English National Ballet (ENB), alongside the Royal Albert Hall, to see their preview of their Winter 2015/16 programme.  Their preview included a pas de deux from “Lest We Forget”, a triple-header which was Artistic Director Tamara Rojo’s first commission for the ENB, in commemoration of the centenary of the First World War.  The music of the excerpt was by Liszt (I didn’t recognise it and had to ask – it’s from Harmonies Poétique et Religieuse), and both the music and the dancing were wonderful

So I was glad to get a ticket for the performance at Sadlers Wells on Friday Sept 11th — and even more glad in the cafeteria an hour before the show when I found myself standing next to Tamara Rojo in the cafeteria line!  And before you ask — yes, I did manage to resist the temptation to introduce myself and ask for a photo-op!  But before I comment further I should make an admission — I far prefer the great 19th century ballets, and indeed some of the 20th Century narrative ballets like Manon and Mayerling, to the contemporary work favoured by today’s avant garde, so I approached the whole work with a degree of trepidation, despite my enjoyment of the excerpt at the preview.

I’d booked early so I had a great seat in the front row of the First Circle.  The three pieces in the show each have different choreographers, and different composers.  Perhaps the one I liked least was the middle piece, “Second Breath”, choreographed by Russell Maliphant with “Music” by Andy Cowton.  I can concede that there was a certain amount of movement, and a great deal of noise, in the piece, but I’m afraid there was little I could identify as music and dancing.  The sound-track was largely recorded, and included a lot of banging, plus a reading of Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that Good Night”, together with what sounded like the contents of speech bubbles from a Second World War comic.

I well know that vocal music can be a marvellous accompaniment to ballet — the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Carmina Burana” springs to mind.  But poetry and the spoken word lose all sense of the rhythm of the dance, and seem self-referential and pretentious.  The best thing to say about Second Breath is that it was blessedly short.

The third piece, “Dust”, was remarkable.  The composer Jocelyn Pook had attempted something that sounded like music, while modern choreographer Akram Khan  had created some stunningly original shapes and movements (see picture above).  The piece also included a pas de deux with Tamara Rojo which was wonderful.

But for me, the first piece, No Man’s Land, was best of all.  .  Liszt’s music was beyond comparison with the modernist music of Cowton and Pook, and would have stood as a concert piece even without the dancing.  Then both the choreography (by Liam Scarlett – a man to watch) and the set captured the whole terror and squalor of war, the smell of the cordite, and the agony of loss and loneliness that bedevilled both those who went to war and those they left behind.  Utterly poignant.

The ENB is touring with the piece in coming weeks, and it’s well worth seeing, whether as a mark of respect for the memory of those days, or to see the direction of modern dance, or to seize the opportunity of seeing Tamara Rojo and Alina Cojocaru  on stage.  But perhaps their transcendent artistry deserves better and more consistent material.

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5 Responses to Lest We Forget

  1. Jane Davies says:

    Sounds wonderful Roger….I hope we get the film of it here on Vancouver Island. We enjoy the Shakespeare seasons from the Globe and also many of the Ballets and National Theatre productions and the films quality means one forgets that we are not actually in the audience but thousands of miles away. I will look out for this one.

  2. davidbuckingham says:

    Without wishing to deflect from the beauty of your ballet experience this title resonated strikingly with a book I’ve been reading – Nicolai Tolstoy’s Victims of Yalta – it’s about the biggest British crime against humanity but sadly isn’t in any danger of being forgotten – few are aware of it and its cruelty which is comparable to Hitler’s or Stalin’s. Over two million people were where necessary forcibly “repatriated” by the British from liberated Europe to Stalin’s concentration camps and summary execution post World War Two, seemingly to appease Stalin. The British from Churchill down knew the likely outcomes and of the fears of the victims who were often ex-White Russians and Cossacks who had left the Soviet Union long before the 2nd world war and fought against the Bolsheviks alongside British commanders prior to any anti-Red Army exploits on the German side.
    They were embarrassing to the west.

    Our children are relentlessly taught the evils of Nazism in their GCSEs and A levels but Stalin’s crimes which were on a far larger scale are glossed over – the educational socialist bias is tolerant of Soviet crimes and concentrate on those of the Nazis. The balance needs correcting. People happily wear a hammer & sickle fashion item or a Che Guevara portrait and probably a picture of Stalin – I’ve never seen the Nazi emblem adopted or an image of Hitler for fashion fun. I’m also curious to know of any friends of Alger Hiss in the Foreign Office which was a ruthless driver of the repatriation.

  3. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Sorry to break up this excuse for a rendezvous with a beer or two,
    Daily BBC Squawk – World Service + R4 Today. Hot Stuff Edition:


    could, might, maybe..ah but! Well, you know? As a BBC weather man said yesterday, you’ll just have to wait and see.

    • Jane Davies says:

      Seeing as you brought the weather man into the conversation Colin………

      Once upon a time there was a king who wanted to go fishing. He called the royal weather forecaster and enquired as to the weather forecast for the next few hours. The weatherman assured him that there was no chance of rain in the coming days. So the king went fishing with his wife, the queen. On the way he met a farmer on his donkey. Upon seeing the king the farmer said, “Your Majesty, you should return to the palace at once because in just a short time I expect a huge amount of rain to fall in this area”. The king was polite and considerate, he replied: “I hold the palace meteorologist in high regard. He is an extensively educated and experienced professional. Besides, I pay him very high wages. He gave me a very different forecast. I trust him and I will continue on my way.” So he continued on his way. However, a short time later a torrential rain fell from the sky. The King and Queen were totally soaked and their entourage chuckled upon seeing them in such a shameful condition. Furious, the king returned to the palace and gave the order to fire the weatherman at once! Then he summoned the farmer and offered him the prestigious and high paying role of royal forecaster. The farmer said, “Your Majesty, I do not know anything about forecasting. I obtain my information from my donkey. If I see my donkey’s ears drooping, it means with certainty that it will rain.” So the king hired the donkey. And so began the practice of hiring asses to work in the government and occupy its highest and most influential positions.

      So now you know!………..

  4. Thank you for letting me enjoy your experience at second hand. Much appreciated!

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