Choreographer William Forsythe has nothing to prove. Having spent decades reinventing ballet and pushing dance’s limits, he has seemingly reached a point where he just wants to have fun, and generously wants you to have fun, too.
This double bill for English National Ballet unashamedly revels in ballet’s precision poses, formal exercises and bravura moves, and the utter delight of a corps of bodies moving in unison. All driven by pop music and joy. While Forsythe’s early works were set to clanging experimental electronics, his playlist has mellowed to house, R&B, soul and electro (ABRA, Khalid, Lion Babe …).
Blake Works I (originally made for Paris Opera Ballet), is backed by the beat-driven melancholia of James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything. Then comes Playlist, expanded from a version made for ENB’s men in 2018, now with added tracks (including Latin disco from Barry White), and added women, too. Both pieces are along similar lines movement-wise: academicism and athleticism, classical lines expanded, bodies stylishly torqued, steps packed in at speed – although the loveliest section in Blake Works is a pas de deux for Emily Suzuki and Isaac Hernández where the drum pattern drops away and there’s breathing space for the dancers to express simplicity and complexity in love.
The only downer of the evening is that the material for the women is weaker than that for the men. Flexed hands, perky pointe work, showgirl bevel – it’s all a bit cheerleader-y. Whereas it’s easier for the men (minus pointe shoes, perhaps) to cross the divide between classical poise and feeling the funk, virtuosity in flight and grounded groove. Miguel Angel Maidana catches the eye, and Giorgio Garrett, Jeffrey Cirio. Actually, all the men are impressive and their pleasure on stage is palpable and infectious.
If you can watch the company tightly jumping en masse to the “Hugging and squeezing and kissing and pleasing …” bit of Natalie Cole’s This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) without beaming ear to ear, well, you are made of stone. It’s not quite perfection, but you won’t get a more feelgood night at the ballet than this.