Lest We Forget at the Barbican is an inspired thematic programme to mark the centenary of the WW1, but it’s also a good deal more than this. Through the architecture of Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land, with sloped oppositional steps reminiscent of the kingdom of the shades, in a stunning design by Jon Bausor, we are aware of three planes. No Man’s Land, is set high amidst sculptural pane glass and mustard gas; huge silhouettes shrink as men emerge through a broken shard. On the stage, women dressed for the factory in turquoise blue lament, mourn and endure. As the men, in dun-brown, dance with the women the couplings become elegiac: arms are the soldier’s knapsacks as they prepare to march.
The Royal Ballet’s Scarlett, references Macmillian’s Requiem. Yet Scarlett, in his breathtaking lifts and balances, is of a more romantic frame of mind; while his chosen music, Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religiouses, is a guiding principle throughout.
Russell Maliphant’s Second Breath ups the ante. The opening, scything gestures by the company is mesmeric, while the amplified glorious second movement is a series of dramatic falls as men are hoisted up to fall front, back or sideways into supporting arms. The final movement, a pas de deux between Tamarin Stott and Nathan Young, is a series of balance and counter-balance which shift in intensity. Andy Cowton’s atmospheric soundscore fuses music, recordings from the Imperial War Museum and Dylan Thomas’ defiant Do Not Go Gently into That Great Goodnight; while Stevie Stewart’s striking costume design adds a contemporary context.
The programme returns to an architectural setting in Akram Khan’s Dust. Sander Loonen creates a red, raised dust bank. Women in grey utilitarian head scarves and uniform cut the air with their arms in gestures of defiance, strength or longing. Never has Khan’s characteristic choreography – his serpentine, linked arms, his communal, ritual uniformity – looked so good; matched by the percussive, evocative rhythms of Jocelyn Pook’s score. As the final image of a dancer, Tamara Rojo, spins out of a waltz step, alone, the full impact of the piece is realised; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Firebird by George Williamson, modelled on Folkine’s original with music by Igor Stravinsky makes a contemporary sortie into the world of the celebrity. The look is stunning. David Bamber’s design recalls the 20s’ in its huge rectangular tapestry-like backdrop which spills across the cyclorama in his bold use of colour. Williamson’s choreography shows off the flexibility of Ksenia Ovsyanick as the Firebird; enhanced by Paul Keogan’s striking, atmospheric lighting.
Lest We Forget is a bold, decisive move for Dance – no more featureless shorts. It is also a dynamic union between classical and contemporary influences; and catapults English National Ballet, under the inspired directorship of Tamara Rojo, onto an international platform. Catch it while you can…