Oh to be back at the ballet! Even with masks and social distanced seating, it was pure bliss to be back at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. We’ve all waited so so long for the return of live dance and English National Ballet‘s Reunion programme was curated to bring us joy, touch our hearts, mesmerise, hypnotise and make us laugh out loud.

ENB commissioned acclaimed choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant, Yuri Possokhov, Arielle Smith and ENB Associate Choreographer and dancer Stina Quagebeur to create pieces for ENB’s Digital Season which the company performed on stage for the first time to an audience grateful and excited to see the dancers live.

The evening opened with Stina Quagebeur’s Take Five Blues which, she says in the introductory video, was created simply to provide joy to the dancers – what a great reason to create a piece, especially after such a tough time for the dancers and the dance industry. The piece opened with the wings stripped bear, the stage lit blue, with big round lights hanging overhead creating an outdoor vibe. The dancers began to slowly take their place, not yet hinting at the joyous fast paced, ballet after-party style gathering, that sees the dancers performing what looks to be their favourite moves of fast pirouettes and pointe work, fouettés, complex jumps, high extensions, dynamic solos, duos and small groups, culminating in an explosion of the entire cast to the rhythmic mix of classical and jazz music that uplifted the souls of the dancers and audience alike.

Sidi Larbi Cherkauoi’s Laid in Earth took us to another realm where the real and the shadow meet. The intensity of the performances by Precious Adams, Erina Takahashi, Jeffrey Cirio and James Streeter was mesmerising, as they embodied the two halves of one, the real, the shadow, with entwining duets, intense emotion in sensual red, shadowed black under a dead tree on the edge of reality, against the backdrop of an aria sung live and rumbling electronic beats.

Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov chose to tackle the music of Russian composer Shostakovich which, he explained in his intro video, he’d been putting off for many years due to the immense challenge of the music. But Possokhov’s Senseless Kindness set to Piano Trio No 1, was a pure classical delight with beautiful partnering by Francesco Gabriele Frola, Emma Hawes, Isaac Hernández, and Alison McWhinney. The young couples exuded an innocence that belied the darkness of the Second World War just beyond the simple black stage. It was a pleasure to watch their lightness and hopeful portrayal of these friends and to see the elegance in their movement, the softness of their arms, the discreet bend of their upper backs, their strong arabesques and the emotional and physical connection between the couples as we glimpse a small moment in their lives.

Russell Maliphant reveals his piece like white light glimmering off a rippling black ocean in the dark of night, with entities just beyond the horizon coming into focus through the slithers of black and white. The dancers move, grounded deeply into the floor, they sweep low, rising their arms high, twirling like natural elements, of wind, of energy, to melodic music pulsating through the ritualistic, quiet movement language that creates perpetually shifting shapes. The layering of light, movement and music builds into an optical illusion that becomes more immersive with each pulse, each beat, each particle of light, until the dancers disappear into the ether and a single body ripples into non-existence, leaving only the sense of the energy and nothingness in the dancers void.

But this void is filled with the final piece of the evening by Arielle Smith who says, in her video, that after deciding against creating a piece to change the world, she created a piece to celebrate the art form and her love of Charlie Chaplin and a celebration it was! And honestly, after a long dark winter locked inside and away from live dance, Jolly Folly was the full on comic, hilarious, quirky, laugh out loud, hip swirling, heel clicking, body jerking Chaplin-esque heart warming, joyfully complex, character filled show that brought a spark of hope and splendour into the night. The dancers were exceptional, showcasing their acting skills, their technical ability that they’ve maintained, as they brought the house down with their sensational energy. Just what we needed!

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 18 May 2021

Image credit: Precious Adams in Laid in Earth by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui part of ENBs Reunion (c) Laurent Liotardo