REVIEW: Lest We Forget & Romeo and Juliet

Joshua McSherry-Gray performing in Russell Maliphant's piece Second Breath
Joshua McSherry-Gray performing in Russell Maliphant's piece Second Breath

As the English National Ballet brought two productions to Milton Keynes Theatre this week, reporters Bev Creagh and Stewart Carr went along to give their verdicts.

CREAGH SAYS: There was something for all balletomanes at MKTheatre this week – a sumptuously staged production of Romeo and Juliet for lovers of traditional classical ballet and the immensely powerful and rightfully award-winning Lest we Forget for those – like me – who prefer a more modern approach.

Lest We Forget comprises a trio of works created to mark last year’s centenary of World War One. The three - No Mans’s Land, Second Breath and Dust – are an absolute tour de force: poignant, compelling, original and thought-provoking.

The stark lighting emphasises the underlying menace and sense of foreboding that haunts each one. The scores are a triumph – dramatic and uplifting.

No Man’s Land by Liam Scarlett is perhaps the most sympathetic, its bleak set doubling as a bombed out building, and a factory where flurries of yellow munitions powder create an eerie glow around the almost robotic workers. Soldiers march bleakly, exhausted, worn down and weighed down by war.

The final scene is particularly emotional . . . a woman dances with her homecoming hero but is he flesh and blood, or merely a figment of her imagination?

Second Breath by Russell Maliphant is almost hypnotic as swaying dancers move in semi-darkness.

Dust won Best Modern Choreography for Akram Khan. It opens with the back view of a tortured soul writhing and twisting centre stage. His pain is visceral. There is menace in the factory workers making weapons of mass destruction. But there is also passion, love and loss.

An outstanding evening of dance from English National Ballet.

CARR SAYS: I confess to being totally blown away by The English National Ballet’s touring performance of ‘Lest We Forget’ on Tuesday, performed in three parts with their own choreographers.

The first, Liam’s Scarlett’s No Man’s Land is the most direct allusion to the First World War. We see the men in their cannonfodder brown uniforms, bound for the western front, and the women in blue factory garbs complete with yellow-tinged fingers.

It’s a wonderful ode to longing and separation. Only briefly do the men and women dance all as one, and a ghostly encounter between a woman and her lost love brings the scene to a poignant close.

I also loved Russell Maliphant’s abstract Second Breath. Creepy and subversive, it appeared to my eyes a take on the twisted outcome of war, with the monotone voices of survivors melding with the orchestra as the dancers writhed and threw themselves across the stage.

And of course, Akram Khan’s award-winning Dust formed the final segment of No Man’s Land. Outstandingly arranged, we saw the contorted movements of a muscleman as he slowly rose from the ground and formed a human chain with other dancers.

As men slowly ascend and disappear over the hill, the remaining women performed a feisty, combatitive number as the orchestra rose to a crescendo. In the end only two dancers stood their ground, James Streeter and Tamara Rojo, who sparred with each other in the show-stopping finale.

With the bar set so high, the company’s performance of Rudolf Nureyev’s classic Romeo And Juliet had a lot to overcome but it still managed to dazzle, mainly for its sheer luxury.

In complete contrast to Lest We Forget, everything about Romeo and Juliet is rich and sumptuous, from the costumes and scenery to the number of dancers taking centre stage in epic Verona street fights.

Perhaps the weakest parts were those featuring Romeo and Juliet alone, with a distinct lack of chemistry between the two. But with a changing cast of principal dancers over it’s three day run, perhaps Saturday night’s performance of Romeo and Juliet with two different leads might create some sparkle.

Romeo and Juliet plays at Milton Keynes Theatre tonight. Book here for tickets.