CREAGH CARR REVIEW: Song Of The Earth/La Sylphide, MK Theatre

La Syphide
La Syphide

The Creagh/Carr review gives you two for the price of one – the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant newshound Stewart Carr. Here they review English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth/La Sylphide at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday (October 21).

CREAGH SAYS... The best thing about this almost three-hour long production is the English National Ballet Philharmonic. Canned music is used so often in theatres these days that to hear a full live orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, is a real treat.

Song of the Earth combines ballet with opera and I’m not sure it’s a marriage that works. Tenor Simon Gfeller’s voice didn’t sound strong enough initially to soar over the music, although it improved as the evening progressed.

But mezzo soprano Fiona McIntosh was a delight.

Ancient Chinese poems are sung in German to accompany Mahler’s powerful score .

ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo dances The Woman in Song of the Earth, created by legendary choreographer Kenneth Macmillan who died 25 years ago.

She, Joseph Caley as The Man and Aaron Robison as The Messenger of Death are all highly accomplished professionals but to me the performance was curiously lacking in warmth, not helped by the fact that several of the corps de ballet were so emaciated they appeared to have been on starvation diets. Many of the movements were angular, robotic and repetitive.

The set was spare, as were the costumes.

So it was a joy to watch the animation in La Sylphide, both in the Scottish castle where a wedding is to take place, and in the forest glade where the erstwhile groom abandons his prospective bride to follow the Sylph with whom he’s fallen in love.

These dancers appeared far more robust than their Song of the Earth counterparts and there were delightful cameos from two aspiring youngsters who surely have a glittering career ahead of them.

CARR SAYS... Chalk and cheese might be the best way to decribe the English National Ballet’s dual offering of Song of the Earth / La Sylphide.

Beyond a vague feeling of fantasy, I can’t find any clear thread that connects these two completely disparate ballets.

Let’s start with Song of the Earth, one of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s lesser known creations. It features six dances tracking the moods of the seasons, each one accompanied by an operatic score.

Harsh, abstract and minimalistic - it certainly pays to read the English translation of the German opera score beforehand.

The volley of male and female performers come and go, all dressed in murky green-grey uniforms that meld into the equally vapid landscape.

The young men dominate the stage with their bold, outstretched movements, while the women - with the exception of artistic director Tamara Rojo - are frustratingly confined to a passive, nimble presence on stage.

Far more engaging – and with all the pomp, colour and sumptuousness that English National Ballet is known for – is La Sylphide.

Veteran soloist Erina Takahashi takes the role of the Sylph, an enchanting Victorian fairy who bewitches a Scottish bridegroom shortly before his wedding.

The sheer vastness of the sets and beautiful costuming make this a delight to watch.

A myriad of supporting cast members, including kilted barn dancers, dainty white fairies, and an eerily authentic witch, make this classic a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Song Of The Earth/La Sylphide plays ay MK Theatre until Saturday. See here for tickets.