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Review: Song of the Earth/La Sylphide, at London Coliseum

12 January, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in La Sylphide. Photo: Laurent Liotardo

ENGLISH National Ballet’s double bill offers its production of Kenneth Macmillan’s Song of the Earth, mounted last year to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of its choreographer and now seen for the first time in London, as is their production of La Sylphide, which accompanies it.

The first, created for Stuttgart Ballet in 1965 to Mahler’s song cycle (after the Royal Ballet had said such music wasn’t suited to ballet), doesn’t follow the text of its Chinese poems but the emotion in the music. It is a study of a man and a woman and a masked figure, an enigmatic messenger who represents death, but a death that also seems to be about eternal renewal.

This death is not a sinister figure but a friend. He seems to both carry them off and bring them together. Graceful Tamara Rojo gives a poised performance as the Woman, Joseph Caley dances well as the Man but is less charismatic and, though all three blend well together, it is Fernando Carratalá Coloma as the Messenger whom you can’t take your eyes off.

Contralto Rhonda Browne and tenor Samuel Sakker sing the six songs alternately and the whole company deliver Macmillan’s strong choreography with style.

August Bournonville choreographed La Sylphide for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1836 and this production has been staged by Frank Anderson, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter of that company. It’s the tale of a woodland spirit (Jurgita Dronina) enamoured of a Scots lad. It’s the eve of his wedding and he sleeps by the fire as she charmingly flutters around him.

With good-looking Isaac Hernández as James, it’s easy to understand her attraction and when her kiss wakes him he finds her just as captivating.

When a fortune-telling witch predicts that not he but her other suitor Gurn will marry his bride Effy, James throws her out: and makes an enemy. When James disappears, following his Sylphide, Gurn leads the hunt after him into the forest and his infatuation ends tragically.

Bournonville’s style is much more free than later classical ballet and his version of Scottish dances delightful and Mikael Melbye’s designs have a Walter Scott flavour full of tartans with a bevy of bagpipes (though Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s score doesn’t actually feature them).

The company delivers the mime that helps tell the story with clarity and Dronina and Hernández dance divinely with great work too from Daniel Kraus (Gurn), Anjuli Hudson (Effy) and the whole spirited company.

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English National Ballet will pair La Sylphide with Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort from January 16-20.


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