Following the acclaimed She Said in 2016, English National Ballet’s director Tamara Rojo continues with She Persisted, another triple bill showcasing women’s work offering a revival, a premiere and one of the greats. The name comes from the feminist movement “Nevertheless, she persisted” in 2017 after the silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate. Its meaning where women persist in breaking barriers, despite the hardships thrown at them is especially significant here.
In Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, a revival from She Said, Katja Khaniukova is a spirited Frida Kahlo, a role originally created on Tamara Rojo, with Irek Mukhamedov reprising as her womanising husband, Diego Rivera. The real-life comparisons of his elephant to her dove are apparent, as is the subtext of the Day-of-the-Dead-esque skeletons haunting Frida’s every move. The memorable monologue on pain from BBC’s Fleabag comes to mind: “Women are born with pain built in… We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out.”
Stina Quagebeur’s world premiere of Nora, a stripped back adaptation of A Doll’s House, is her first major work for the company. The eight-person piece set to Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was scaled back focusing on the relationship of Nora and Torvald (beautifully performed by Crystal Costa and Jeffrey Cirio), with the blackmailer Krogstad and five “voices” clad in grey silk acting as Nora’s conscience, personifying her internal struggle and her growing self-worth and resolve. The series of duets go from light and whimsical to increasingly controlling and dominating, even resorting to a repeating sit-on-my-knee do-as-I-do motif. Jeffrey Cirio delights in some of Quagebeur’s best choreography, complete with outstanding leaps and changes of pace from devastation and anger to softly manipulative. In the final desperately beautiful pas de deux between the two, where she decides to leave him, you can almost hear her narration: “I have another duty, just as sacred. My duty to myself”.
Pina Bausch’s 1975 Rite of Spring does not start when the dancers come onto the stage, rather in the laying of the dirt that the dancers will soon throw themselves into. Bausch passed away in 2009 but left a huge legacy in one of the most riveting and visceral interpretations of a masterpiece. Stravinsky’s iconic score and the otherness of both groups, all so young and so unlike the ancient casts in other interpretations. The ethereal quality of the women in their long flowing gowns and the raw masculinity in the bare-chested men only adds to the strangely hypnotic atmosphere, as if we along with the dancers are possessed by some overwhelming destructive force. Pausch always wanted to capture the mind, body and soul of her dancers and in Francesca Velicu, who reprises her Olivier-winning role as the Chosen One, she certainly has. In the final shattering solo, she loses herself in battling against her fate and so do we, haunted by the unforgiving strings, her wild eyes and the terribly beautiful inevitability of it all.