Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Despite its title, Quint-Essential is not a traditional set of ballet performances – the New English Ballet Theatre seeks to bring upcoming dancers and choreographers together and explore the unconventional. They pay homage to the classical foundations of the dance but similarly look forward into the future. After all, these individuals are the next generation of the discipline; it is their performances and their creativity that may someday be remembered in the same vain as Carlos Acosta, Margot Fonteyn or even Rudolf Nureyev.
As its title alludes to, Quint-Essential presents five new pieces, each 15-20 minutes in length, as a showcase of world premiering works. The choreographers are all themselves ballet dancers and as such, an audience can expect an intrinsic knowledge of the craft. Indeed, each choreographer brings expertise to their piece and their vision comes to life. The dancers themselves are also professionals, albeit in many cases less experienced, seemingly newer dancers that push themselves to the highest standards and deliver on most occasions. As a group there tends to be a lack of synchronicity, too many small moments where one member is out of time with their counterparts. The pas de deux are much tighter; each pairing connects on a more fundamental level and the emotion that stems from these are all the more powerful for it.
Three dancers from the ensemble stand out from the crowd. Whether it be through competence or expression, Alexandra Cameron-Martin’s quirky transformation in Kristen McNally’s Moonshine, Alexander Nuttall’s fall from grace in Valentino Zucchetti’s Enticement’s Lure and Pablo Luque Romero, the youngest and most energetic dancer that captures the audience in both George Williamson’s Strangers and Daniela Cardim’s Vertex, are all worthy of the enthusiastic applause they receive after each piece. Each in their way push the boundaries of the piece, simultaneously challenging it to develop further whilst honouring the concept of the choreographer.
Whether it be more rooted in the classical version of this art form, or pushing the boundaries with alternative, abstract pieces, each choreographer translates their vision clearly onto the stage. Zucchetti’s is most overtly expressed – Enchantment’s Lure explores lust and temptation between lovers that leads one astray whilst the other remains pure and faithful. Driven forward by Rachmaninov’s powerful Trio Elagiaque No. 1, both this piece and Williamson’s Strangers align more closely with the traditional and as such carry a narrative weight that the others don’t possess. The two are set to classical pieces (Strangers builds up from Brahms Cello and Piano Sonata in E Minor) with deep, rich tones from the cello that emphasise the passion of love and betrayal. Strangers looks at the ending of a relationship as well but from the perspective of nostalgia, raking back over the good times and memories with three pairs of dancers mimicking each other to add fluidity and weight.
The showcase is book-ended by two altogether more abstract works. Marcelino Sambé’s Land of Nod plays with sound on a more contemporary level, for the most part eschewing traditional musicality in favour of background noises and dins – constructions works, the sounds of a city during morning rush hour that convey the humdrum and mundane nature of waking life. Contrasting this is the dream-like state, in which flows repetitive, simplistic musical motifs in the vein of Steve Reich – the dancers grapple with ethereal movements that fuse with more modern techniques as they randomly bounce around the subconscious mind on the brink of dreaming. Sambé’s piece lacks direction in this state and as a result meaning is lost in translation. By contrast Cardim’s Vertex, accompanied by Camargo Guarnieri’s String Quartet No. 2 is playful, vibrant and emotionally fulfilling. It doesn’t lack a driving force, in this case the expansive musical phrases interspersed with subtle pizzicato is sufficient to compensate for its abstract qualities.
The middle piece encompasses all of the best parts of contemporary dance. McNally’s Moonshine, inspired by music from The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a magical mystery tour that explores, both through the music and the movement, a somewhat farcical interpretation of an individual’s search for their place in the world, their meaning and significance. Skipping lightly between reactional comedy and the solemnity of a funeral, the entire piece is transformational and epic in its construction. Whilst all pieces have conception and vision, this one above all combines clarity of thought and innovative progression into the future, a fusion that summarises the aim of this progressive neoclassical ballet company.
Quint-Essential is playing The Peacock Theatre until November 12.