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English National Ballet: Lest We Forget

Published by: TREMAYNE Miller on 13th Apr 2014 | View all blogs by TREMAYNE Miller

English National Ballet: Lest We  Forget – a war quartet

Date: April 11, 2014

ENB Artistic Director: Tamara Rojo.

Collaborators: Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Liam Scarlett and George Williamson.


 Orchestra of English National Ballet

Conductor: Gavin Sutherland

Leader: Matthew Scrivener

Tamara Rojo’s theme of the First World War is also included in the production’s narrative, which, like a fairytale, embeds itself in the memory of each person in the audience.

‘I felt it was a subject that dance needed to visit again. .. I think dance can tackle the deep emotional feelings of war, like loss and bereavement, in a way that other forms can't.’

 She was interested in employing individual choreographers who brought something different to the table. Russell although contemporary, has a classical background, Akram, also contemporary, has roots in kathak, and Liam’s style is more classical.  All have strong identities and voices.

The idea behind the programme is to extend the expertise of The English National Ballet, and to work with choreographers whose approach isn’t necessarily thought to be straightforward. 


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Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land, the act to open the set has an uneven stage which could represent the jagged edges of a saw or an open wound, and smoke that penetrates through the pores of every person in the audience .  The imbalance creates a separation between the factory and the battlefield.  Arguably the best material is when the women engrain the visage of each man in their memory box.  The torment of the battlefield, however, is well reflected in the duets, and the Liszt piano music accompaniment.

 I am fascinated by the way in which the female dancers use their bodies in comparison to the male dancers. An example is when they wrap their arms around the men, who then transform them into the straps of a parachute.

The difference in sex is differentiated by the varying levels in staging; and

the women’s pale sky blue dresses, delicate as flower petals, work in direct contrast to the  muddy-brown cloth of the men’s wear.

 ‘I wanted to show it through the experience of the individuals, and in particular through the experience of separation. I was fascinated by the idea of these objects travelling from England to the front, by the idea that soldiers might actually be using the equipment that their wives or sisters might have made.

..I thought about all the images that epitomised the war, from the factories to the landscape of the trenches, then we let them explode into another place.’

 -         Liam Scarlett


The revival of George Williamson’s The Firebird, slotted in between the First and Third Act, has little connection to the war. But a combination of the way in which ballerina, Ksenia Ovsyanick lays her body upon the ground, and the all-in-one outfit she wears with shimmering gold dots down each side, convinces us, immediately, that she is The Firebird.  Some of the dancers are dressed purposely in gold to match The Firebird, while two of the principal male dancers are adorned with outfits that have a mottled look. One of whom I assume is a lizard.  After The Firebird appears to have fallen from grace, it is lifted into the sky by the earth’s creatures; who unite together to form a tunnel for The Firebird to pass through.

This piece may be considered by many as the odd one out but I took it to represent man’s despair versus his inner strength, which steadily mounts till he is able to support himself single handedly, and breathe healthy air once more.  The idea of ‘the phoenix rising from the flames’ as the ashes ignite all around him.


Russell Maliphant's Second Breath, although low key, is perhaps more emotionally charged. Twenty dancers reunite in a spiral chorus of loss, accompanied by recorded voices in Andy Cowron’s score; and with a rise in emotion, a pivotal moment occurs when Alina Cojocaru and Junor Souza duet as two fragile lovers, who continually attempt to reconnect.

At the start you question if the stage is, in fact, tilted as The Company sway on the spot. Their bodies twist, lift, then tumble to the ground as they fall, representing the loss of life in war.

‘I started by reading a lot of history and war poetry and the letters that soldiers wrote home about life in the trenches. All that reading has fed into the imagery I've developed with Andy Cowton (the composer) and Michael Hulls (the lighting designer). We've abstracted the imagery, taken it into a more surreal, dream-like place.

Sixty thousand men a day were dying at the Somme. .. so we have a record of the numbers in the musical landscape, we watch the movement in relation to what we're hearing.’

 -         Russell Maliphant

The space in Akram Khan’s Dust is more mythological. The chorus of women act as “warriors of the home front”, the choreography holds within it mechanical movements, along with energetic dervish whirls.

Khan can be perceived as a fallen, yet everlasting soldier; and in the final duet between him and Rojo, he is described as both ”fierce” and “true.”

 ‘war is about life and death and loss, about the most ugly and the most beautiful things we're capable of. And the first world war affected everyone.

The piece I've created is dominated by women. ..they were no longer regarded just as housewives, they were working. Although there are men in the piece they are there more as metaphors of departure and loss.’

 The mixed bill challenges the dancers, and opens the audience’s mind up to a new approach to storytelling .


 Writer © Tremayne

Twitter: @enballet


YouTube: /enballet



  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    Thanks, Tremayne. Sounds fascinating.
  • TREMAYNE Miller
    by TREMAYNE Miller 3 years ago
    New avenues always hold much intrigue for me.
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