Director: Tamara Rojo
Music: Franz Liszt, Andy Cowton, Jocelyn Pook
Choreographers: Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Liam Scarlett
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
A much acclaimed and groundbreaking dance event comes to Milton Keynes this week in the form of English National Ballet’s revival of Lest We Forget. This haunting reflection of the horrors of The Great War includes works by three of the most talented and applauded choreographers of the moment – Liam Scarlett, Russell Maliphant and Akram Khan. The dance trilogy evokes the experiences of those who went to fight the war as well as those who stayed at home.
Royal Ballet’s artist-in-residence, Liam Scarlett, has choreographed No Man’s Land for seven couples. The dramatic dance deals with the ‘Canaries’, the women in the munitions factories who packed explosives into shells in the process turning their hands yellow. Set to the wonderful harmonies poetiques et religieuses by Franz Liszt, the women’s fate is contrasted with that of their men in the trenches through moving pas de deux. Jon Bauser’s design manages to create the confinement of both the factory and the trenches. Add to this Paul Keogan’s atmospheric lighting and the whole is mesmerising and poignant. Shaping is a large element of this abstract choreography and it is very effective, as is the manner in which the women climb onto their men’s backs, weighing them down literally and metaphorically somewhat like an army backpack. The climatic pas de deux from Tamara Rojo (Artistic Director) and Junor Souza is beautiful, showing us the grieving woman grasping her husband but in her memory.
Next comes Second Breath, an intense piece by ex-dancer Russell Maliphant, which is set to recordings of survivors as well as the live orchestra. From the beginning we are transported to No-Man’s-Land. Eighteen dancers sway like trees rooted to the ground in almost total darkness, rising and falling, falling and rising again. As Andy Cowton’s score rises to a crescendo the men, kneeling by this point, are dropping to the ground only to jolt back up, which so evocatively creates the feeling of repeated gunfire wounding and killing, man after man. It is truly haunting. Tamarin Stott and Joshua McSherry-Gray perform an exquisite duet as crowning glory to the piece.
Akram Khan’s Dust, winner of Best Modern Choreography, also sets the women centre stage and for me is the most powerful of the three dances. It begins with just one man (Fabian Reimair) writhing in a contorted dance on the floor before finding himself between lines of people whose linked arms ripple in a powerful and incredible wave movement. At one point, the dancers clap their hands generating clouds of dust as per the title of the piece. In the audience, we are almost choking. The dynamic score from Jocelyn Pook cleverly works with and against the dancers’ movements. We also hear the distant voice of a man singing from the trenches.
Khan has said that he wants to demonstrate the cyclical nature of war through the concept of the men dying while women make weapons to kill them and in this he succeeds. It is very thought-provoking. Tamara Rojo performs yet another lyrical pas de deux, this time with the very talented James Streeter, which contrasts perfectly with the previous section
It may sound like an upsetting, even challenging trilogy of dances but Lest We Forget draws you in totally. Well worth a look. You will not see anything else like it for sure.
Runs until20 October 2015 | Image: Arnaud Stephenson