For dance post-lockdown, the gala is in. It’s a Covid-compliant format, uses small groups that can be rehearsed in bubbles, no sets, and is easily digestible for anyone whose attention span has been obliterated by wall-to-wall Netflix. Getting the balance right is the key and this one delivers, with familiar crowdpleasers and some less obvious choices.
There are classics from the vaults: the whirl of petticoats that is Coppélia (or extracts from it), featuring a strong solo from Jeffrey Cirio, who looks like he’s made of lean, rock-hard muscle, all sharp lines and textbook placing. Francesco Gabriele Frola provides fireworks, flying through Ali’s solo from Le Corsaire, and Isaac Hernández is on good form in the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, partnering a deliciously wicked Natascha Mair.
Sometimes with a succession of short pieces, you can’t dig deep into emotional territory, but they manage it twice here. In Stina Quagebeur’s Hollow, where a woman locked in depression is slipping through her partner’s grasp. And in the duet from Dust, made for a first world war centenary programme in 2014 by Akram Khan and originally danced by Khan and ENB’s artistic director Tamara Rojo. This time James Streeter and Erina Takahashi reach and wrap their bodies around each other, but Streeter looks like a man lost and broken by his experience of war.
There’s a vulnerability about him I don’t remember seeing with Khan, a disconnect behind the eyes. And in both pieces there’s a strong sense that we can’t always protect, or save, the ones we love.
They’re examples of the bold commissions Rojo has made since taking over the company in 2012. Katja Khaniukova brings vivacious glow to Frida Kahlo in a duet from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, sparring lovingly with Fabian Reimair’s Diego Rivera. And the finale, William Forsythe’s Playlist (Track 1, 2), is like a big beaming smile; a ballet that makes it seem completely natural to be doing brisés to a house music soundtrack. The limbs of 12 men blur as they speed through precision ballet positions. It’s a different kind of crowdpleaser to the classics, but when Forsythe harnesses the energy of all those bodies moving in unison, it’s just as powerful.