English National Ballet’s spectacular 70th Anniversary at the London Coliseum showcased the history, the people, the works and the dancers past and present, who define the world-class ballet company loved by audiences not just in the UK but around the world. 

Through archive footage and video interview with previous artists and artistic directors we celebrate the journey from the company’s beginnings as the London Ballet Festival to becoming the English National Ballet.

Dame Beryl Grey DBE, former prima ballerina, Artistic Director and President of ENB, look back at the classical repertoire that was the foundation of the company that is today defined by their accessible and groundbreaking contemporary and classical works. 

Tamara Rojo, today’s prima ballerina and Artistic Director (since 2012), curated a programme that reflects this rich history as well as the current creations from world leading choreographers including Broken Wings by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Akram Khan’s Giselle and Derek Deane’s Swan Lake In The Round.  

Swan Lake in-the-round © Laurent Liotardo
Derek Deane’s Swan Lake In The Round. © Laurent Liotardo

The 70th Gala programme was impressively extensive and unexpected, creating a sense of awe at seeing the exquisite dancers perform exerts from the classics and then wow in new pieces not recently seen. What I loved was the opportunity for so many dancers (including Tamara) to have their moment on stage, from the star principals, first artists, soloists, corps de ballet, and students from the English National Ballet School. 

Stand out pieces hit the stage from the opening with The Three-Cornered-Hat-Farruca, followed by the famous and moving Dust-Wave, and Swansong-First Trio wonderfully performed by Jeffrey Cirio, James Streeter and Matthew Astley.

Daniel McCormick stunned in Apollo-Second Solo before the dramatic score of Romeo & Juliet – Dance of the Knights (created for the company by Rudolph Nureyev) filled the theatre with Juliet beautifully danced by Alison McWhinney.

Khan’s Giselle was promised by an introductory video clip of the global sensation of this haunting ballet, but sadly we only received the smallest snippet that left my heart wanting more. But this loss was replaced by seeing Tamara Rojo in her expressive role as Frida Kahlo in Ochoa’s Broken Wings; another piece that has cemented ENB as a groundbreaking company that’s not afraid to challenge expectations.

Fabian Reimair and Tamara Rojo in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings part of English National Ballet's 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo
Fabian Reimair and Tamara Rojo in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings part of English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo

Heading back into the past La Sylphide was followed by The Sleeping Beauty – Jewels with dazzling performances by Daniel McCormick, Katja Khaniukova, Anjuli Hudson, Julia Conway and Carolyne Galvao. 

One of my favourite pieces from the evening was the divine pas de deux by Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza in Three Preludes. Fernanda has captured my heart recently, and I adore watching her musicality, her long lines, her beautiful extensions and her tender partnering with Junor, who was perfectly matched on the other side of the barre set on stage. I am definitely going to be looking for opportunities to see Fernanda perform in the rest of the season. 

Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza in Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes part of English National Ballet's 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo
Fernanda Oliveira and Junor Souza in Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes part of English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo

Seeing Tamara Rojo in Carmen all attitude and strength dancing with Francesco Gabriele Frola was sublime. She remains an incredible dancer whose star quality exudes in every step of this sultry and seductive pas de deux that’s full of confidence, personality and Cuban infused style. 

Back to the classics we were lifted by Coppélia – Mazurka, before a dose of Strictly Gershwin – The Man I Love, and then the men launched onto the stage with huge jumps, complex leaps to a booming electro track in Playlist (Track 2) that literally took your breath away. It was a celebration of the calibre of the male dancers who are often behind the ballerinas, but not this time as they brought the house down with their phenomenal performance. 

Francesco Gabriele Frola and Artists of English National Ballet in Harald Lander's Etudes part of English National Ballet's 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo
Francesco Gabriele Frola and Artists of English National Ballet in Harald Lander’s Etudes part of English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala (c) Laurent Liotardo

The evening was completed with further videos that gave an insight into the future of the company as they move into their new home in east London. Hearing from the dancers as they settle into the new huge bespoke space, you get a sense that this is a real turning point for the company and that ENB is about to flourish before our eyes into the next-gen ballet company.

It’s an exciting time, it’s their future, this is an evolution led by incredible Tamara Rojo, who chose to end the gala with Etudes to showcase both the men and the women of all ranks of the company, the quality of the corps de ballet, the precision of the principals, and the spirit that is the English National Ballet. 

English National Ballet dancers take a bow at the end of Etudes part of the 70th Anniversary Gala (C) Piers Allardyce
English National Ballet dancers take a bow at the end of Etudes part of the 70th Anniversary Gala (C) Piers Allardyce

Reviewed 18 January 2020 at London Coliseum 

Wonderful Team

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