The New English Ballet Theatre was founded in 2011 as a neoclassical company with a mission to nurture emerging dancers, choreographers and artists. In that spirit, this programme offered world premières from five creators who have made worthwhile work, but are not yet fully established. Three of them are current Royal Ballet soloists. The format was simple, with a film of the choreographer introducing each piece, reflecting on inspiration and the process of creation.

© Patrick Baldwin
© Patrick Baldwin

The Land of Nod by Marcelino Sambé, to new music by Nathan Halpern and Yann Tiersen, took us into the strange world of a woman's dreams. In a series of episodes she is lifted, swung, pushed, pulled and turned every which way by two men. The dance is relentless, athletic, pacy, and effective. Although the men are in command, Hannah Sofo gives an exceptionally strong and agile performance as the three evolve complex shapes and sequences. By contrast, when she is suddenly woken, next to a different man, she is very much in charge, dictating for him the busy activity preparing for a workday, but she chooses, finally, to go back into her dreams.

George Williamson’s film shared the clarity of his vision for Strangers. The breakdown of a couple’s relationship is explored in flashbacks and images, using three male and three female dancers so that the portrayal of moments in the relationship was interwoven and expanded with images of emotion and hidden meaning. This brought a new angle to a familiar narrative, creating satisfying, polished, beautifully performed and nuanced dance. There is real depth to this choreography. This is supported by Anna Menzies and Anne Lovett’s strong interpretation of Brahms’ Cello and Piano Sonata (op38) and enhanced by Andrew Ellis’s outstanding lighting: dozens of glass globes are suspended across the stage, each able to change position and to emit flashes or steady light of any colour or brightness as well as reflecting all the other lights. This allowed dancers to be lit very closely, making it clear at each moment which were the “real” couple while creating emotional resonance and some exquisite visual compositions. This piece was the one I took away with me, with so many images and memories fixed in my mind. I would love to see this again.

The enthusiasm and humour that bubbled through Kristen McNally’s introduction was echoed in Moonshine as a kind of insane folk dance, to a quirky selection from Alexandre Desplates’ film score for The Grand Budapest Hotel. The whole company, dressed in striped pyjamas echoing some kind of prison uniform, struck odd poses and formations in between jerky reels and sets before a final solo. There are moments of narrative (as when a couple try to push in) but it sustained a light-hearted sense of slight absurdity. It was energetically witty and contagiously funny, made more so by the precision and accuracy of the performance. I could not really see the pilgrimage theme described in the programme, but it did not matter.

Diogo Barbosa, Alexander Nuttall and Alexandra Cameron-Martin © Patrick Baldwin
Diogo Barbosa, Alexander Nuttall and Alexandra Cameron-Martin
© Patrick Baldwin

We were in more traditional ballet territory with Valentino Zucchetti’s Enticement’s Lure. Set to a beautiful performance of Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque No 1, and framed by a backcloth which shrivelled and lost colour as the work progressed, we watched the destruction of two couples through infidelity, catalysed by Diogo Barbosa as a slightly melodramatic, but convincingly attractive, evil cupid who offers short-term passion however destructive it might be. Despite the slightly stereotypical characters all the performances were strong, keeping the piece engaging.

The final piece, Vertex by Daniela Cardim, was an abstract exploration of her Brazilian roots through Camargo Guarnieri’s String Quartet no 2 strongly played by the Gildas Quartet. The sunshine lighting, geometric backdrops (by Ann Christopher RA) and costumes combined with the music to give the piece a late-modernist feel, though using neoclassical ballet language, in which strong arms and gestures were fused with clean formations and use of space. The cast interpreted this with precision and skill: more than once, the perfect placement of a foot or head, or a fleeting moment of eye to eye communication between dancers gave me chills. Isabella Swietlicki stood out for me within this strong ensemble. She was wonderfully expressive while completely precise.

This evening was a rich menu of thoughtful and engaging choreography, very well performed by consistently excellent emerging dancers and musicians: fulfilling the company’s mission perfectly.

****1