Song of the Earth & La Sylphide – Milton Keynes Theatre

Choreographers: Kenneth Macmillan, Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg  

Music: Gustav Mahler. Herman Severin Lovenskiold

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

At Milton Keynes this week English National Ballet stages a mix of wonderfully romantic ballets and challenging choreography in the form of La Sylphide and Song of the Earth, which has rightly received tumultuous praise from both critics and the public.

First seen on stage in 1965, Song of the Earth was the moment when Kenneth Macmillan’s particular choreographic style first became apparent and audiences were wowed by it. Its point of inspiration was Mahler’s Das Lied Von Der Erde and it pulls together poetry, music and dance encapsulating life’s inevitable and delicate cycle which is ever renewing. To the side of the stage, Flora McIntosh, mezzo-soprano, and tenor, Simon Gfeller, sing the six songs in German which accompany each piece. We are taken through the seasons and through life with three central characters: The Woman (Tamara Rojo), The Man (Joseph Caley) and The Messenger of Death (Aaron Robinson). The three dancers, in simple but effective grey, white and black costumes, work well together to create the image of ever-changing life. Each demonstrates immense skill and fluidity of movement with the apposite poise just when required. The hand gestures and the leaps from both men are very impressive as are Rojo’s incredibly fast point steps toing and froing across the stage in a whirlwind of emotions. Some humour appears amidst the poignancy and works well, as does the last and truly powerful movement as the three edge forward at an agonizing pace to front stage. Plenty to think about in this choreography and very much of its time.

La Sylphide, by utter contrast, tells us the story of James’ love for his fiancée Effy and how, just before the day of his wedding to her, James is awoken in his armchair by the fire to find a vision of an eerie, enticing Sylphide with whom the young man becomes gradually and dangerously infatuated. Thus begins a roller-coaster of events which develops into deep sadness, pure obsession, utter betrayal and finally a horribly tragic ending. August Bournonville’s ballet is a classic in every sense and defines the word ‘romantic’ in this context. The music, from Herman Severin Lovenskiold, enhances the narrative so well. Both music and dance enchant us, entwined as they are. The Scottish Highland dancing is wonderful and so joyous, the children do a superb job and are constantly smiling. Erina Takahashi brings us the delicate, almost fragile but alluring Sylphide so beautifully and, while on this occasion there were a couple of errors, this did not spoil the overall performance. Such flowing and gentle, graceful dancing like clouds floating in shimmering sky. By contrast, Jeffrey Cirio’s frenetic and dazzlingly speedy flights across the stage are energetic and dynamic.  Jane Haworth gives a great character performance as Madge, the wily witch and is totally convincing.

All music is played by a live orchestra, the English National Ballet Philharmonic, under the direction of Gavin Sutherland. The harps and the oboes, in particular, are a delight. The castle and forest sets from Nicholas Georgiadis work perfectly in the second ballet – very evocative.

These delightful works are part of a bold attempt by English National Ballet to bring a real range of dance to audiences at the same time as making the pieces accessible and this the company has certainly achieved. An engrossing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Runs until 201 October 2017 and on tour | Image: Laurent Liotardo

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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