Pair of contrasting ballets at MK Theatre

La Syphide
La Syphide

Review by Hannah Richardson

The English National Ballet could hardly have chosen two more contrasting ballets for its double bill, currently at Milton Keynes Theatre.

Song of the Earth

Song of the Earth

Those of us within striking distance of Milton Keynes are so lucky to be able to access top-quality ballet performances, as ENB regularly puts the new city on its touring schedule.

This season, MK is one of only two stops on the tour before the show is staged at London’s Coliseum in January.

The company’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, who also dances the principal role of The Woman in Song of the Earth, calls this is one of her favourite works.

It may not be a favourite for everyone in the audience however.

Created by Kenneth MacMillan in 1965, and with the performance coinciding with the 25th anniversary of his death, it still feels startlingly modern.

Featuring three central figures, a Man, a Woman and an enigmatic Messenger, the ballet is an exploration of life, death and renewal set to Mahler’s song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, performed live by the English National Ballet Philharmonic and sung on stage by two soloists.

While I found the dancing compelling and the dancers’ technical skill amazing, others I spoke to were disappointed by the starkly unadorned set and monochrome costumes.

The second half of the double bill, the Romantic ballet La Sylphide, could not have been more different.

It opens on a sumptuous set of a baronial hall, and before long the stage is filled with a riot of colourful tartan costumes.

On the morning of his wedding, James falls in love with a sylph, whom he follows into the woods, abandoning his bride-to-be, Effy.

This was a perfect antidote to the challenging content of the first ballet - light, bright and easy to follow, with fast and fabulous footwork inspired by Scottish dancing.

On Tuesday’s opening night, Erina Takahashi was breathtakingly light and ethereal as the Sylph while American guest artist Jeffrey Cirio danced the role of James with beautiful footwork and gravity-defying leaps.

Also of note were Georgio Garrett as Gurn, Francseca Velicu as Effy and Jane Haworth as Madge.

The ENB double bill is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday night.

Box office 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes