On the 12th January 2019 I celebrated my 70th birthday with my husband and daughter with a surprise outing to Sadler’s Wells to see Mathew Bourne’s stunning production of The Red Shoes. Little did we know then that this would be our last theatre outing for almost 17 months. How fitting then, that our first visit to the theatre was to Sadler’s Wells to see ENO’s World Premiere of REUNION – five works by both renowned choreographers and rising talents performed on stage for the first time.
Over lockdown EncoreEast have had the unbelievable good fortune to work with not only one, but two out of the five choreographers, Russel Maliphant & Arielle Smith.
Our final Session with Arielle was over Zoom from Sadler’s Wells where she was awaiting her Technical Call for Jolly Folly ready for their performance. And what a Session we had, there we were in our Charlie Chaplin Costume, performing a small excerpt from Jolly Folly that we had been working with Arielle on over the 6 weeks and which she recorded. As one member of our Group Ju said after it “I felt like I had been to a party”. Buzzing from the whole experience I immediately went on the Sadler’s Wells Website to see if I could get tickets.
This spur of the moment decision took a number of visits to the website before I plucked up the courage to book, fighting the battle in my head “shall I, shan’t I?” Fear had taken over at the thought of travelling to London.
When I walked into the auditorium with my heart beating fast and sat down in my seat, I knew it was the right decision. A lump in my throat threatened to overwhelm me looking round at all the empty seats that should have been taken had it not been for Social Distancing rules. My thoughts turning to all those wonderful artists and technicians involved in the Arts, including my own daughter, whose lives have been turned upside down. How can the Arts Survive?
The lights went down and after the usual announcements, including the new norm “please keep your masks on throughout the Performance”, from a screen on stage, we were greeted with a pre-recorded video with a simple introduction from ENO’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. The format continued with each piece preceded by a video, the choreographer introducing the piece, short rehearsal footage, and a couple of the dancers speaking about personal experiences of the work.
Seeing Russel Maliphant and Arielle Smith on the big screen added to the excitement that I knew I would be sharing with my fellow EncoreEast dancers, Jeanette, Pam and Margaret watching in another part of the theatre.
The lights came up on stage, simple but effective large soft yellow light globes and eight dancers all in blue. For me it felt like coming home, everything else forgotten. The joy in their dancing laid bare for us all to witness. I felt as though I was in the rehearsal room with them, playful, energetic, intimate and yet wanting to share with us. Each dancer offering us their own little individual pieces, laughingly showing off to each other. This was Take Five by Stina Quagebeur.
Senseless Kindness, by Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov was a tender complex piece for two couples about a family caught in the Second World War. This was danced with tenderness and a feeling of bewilderment of being enveloped by something outside of their control.
Laid In Earth by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui not only gave us four incredible dancers but was accompanied by a wonderful mezzo soprano Catherine Backhouse. On stage a bare long dead tree, desolation, a supernatural world. The dancer’s movements were mesmerising within the landscape.
And then there was Russell Maliphant up on the screen, talking to the audience about his work, when only a short time ago he had been talking to me personally via Zoom (well ok, not just me but EncoreEast!) as he took us through a workshop. Then it was time for his dancers to talk about their experience. This was perhaps one of my favourite moments and had me almost leaping out of my seat with joy. One of the lead dancers talked about Russell demonstrating what he wanted, she said, “I watched his body and I just thought “BUT HOW?” My thoughts exactly, I can stop worrying.
Russell Maliphant’s Echoes was heartbreakingly beautiful, the dancers effortlessly embodying everything that Russell’s awe-inspiring approach brings to how a body can move. The use of the lighting designed by Panagiotis Tomaras and with a score by Russell’s wife Dana Fouras with its hauntingly melodic lines all added an ethereal quality to the fluidity in the movements of the dancers. The piece came to an end with the dancers engulfed in a breath-taking expanding cone of light, the atmosphere electric. Leaving us the audience silenced by its beauty before we gathered ourselves together to show our appreciation until our hands were sore.
Finally, we were treated to Jolly Folly and there was Arielle Smith up on the screen. Like a child I wanted to leap up and down in my seat and tell everyone around me that I had been working on this piece with Arielle and had actually danced it!
My face was aching with smiling and yet I found tears rolling down my cheeks with the joy of being there, and the sadness of what we have all been going through. The speed, the dexterity of the dancers and their physical stamina was breath-taking. The Klazz Brothers’ latin and jazz infused covers of Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Mozart was inspirational. When I saw Pam afterwards, she said “I was dancing in my seat, and I thought of you and knew you were too!” How right she was. The unique choreography was reminiscent of old movies, Charlie Chaplin, Keystone Cops and the athletic and debonair Gene Kelly. All the dancers looked immaculate in tuxedos and danced with incredible feats of timing, agility, both classical and comical.
The cheers and whoops at the end were a befitting finale to a wonderful afternoon. A couple of weeks later and it all feels like a dream.