News: Tamara Rojo to dance with Akram Khan

Tuesday 11 March 2014 by Carmel Smith

English National Ballet 'Lest We Forget'

English National Ballet’s first ever season at the Barbican Theatre, opens on Wednesday 2 April with Lest We Forget, a new programme of works marking the centenary of the First World War – and promises to be a landmark for the company. Choreographers Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant are both collaborating with a classical ballet company for the first time – and it has been announced today that Artistic Director Tamara Rojo will be performing with Akram Khan on the opening night, as well as the matinee and evening shows on 3 April.

Khan’s work Dust is about the empowerment of women in the war, especially as they became the main workforce in the country. “The piece is inspired by two things,” he said. “First, the concept of a trench, of the young men and old men all going into trenches, and disappearing. The other substantial part was inspired by the women. In WW1 there was a huge social shift towards women. They needed weapons made for the war, they needed a huge workforce. I felt this shift in role was interesting. They knew they would be letting go of fathers, husbands, and sons; they might lose them. Yet they were making weapons that would kill others’ fathers, husbands, and sons. It didn’t matter which side you were on – they both felt loss and death. But in order for someone to live someone else was putting their life on the line. That cyclical thing was what I wanted to explore.”

Maliphant’s Second Breath is about the men and the sacrifice of the men. Principal couples include Alina Cojocaru with Junor Souza (2, 3 (eve) & 5 April) and Tamarin Stott with Nathan Young. With ENB he has 20 dancers – the most he’s ever worked with. “The challenge is having a reason to use them all. There is a sense that you need a lot of people, somehow, for the subject – even if you use just two, you know it’s a reference to thousands, millions.”

Royal Ballet Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land is about the relationship between men and the women they leave behind, the loss and longing. Casting includes Tamara Rojo and Esteban Berlanga; Alina Cojocaru and Zdenek Konvalina, Ksenia Ovsyanick and Laurent Liotardo, Angela Wood and Fabian Reimair. Erina Takahashi and James Forbat, Fernanda Oliveira and Max Westwell will perform on 2, 3 (eve) & 5 (eve) April. “It’s paying respect to how much people went through,” he said. “What I’m interested in really is that when the men went off, the women almost took over their roles. And you get these objects that pass between them… a loved one went off to war, but the women were in factories making ammunition, packing explosive into ammunition to be shipped out to them, or making uniforms. In a curious way those objects were the only contact between them. It’s a very lonesome, powerful image. We triumphed and we came through, but it was an intensely sad period.”

English National Ballet Associate Artist George Williamson’s Firebird completes the programme, which looks set to appeal to ballet and contemporary dance audiences alike. At the helm for nearly two years now, Tamara Rojo said: “I need the public to see the choreographers of today, and how this company can embrace this new modern language, without threatening what you know of them,” she says. “At the Barbican audiences are very much accustomed to go outside their comfort zone, and I hope we will all be challenged. This subject is so serious that all of these choreographers are treading very reflectively with it. You will see from each of them a different path.”

To deliver this new programme Rojo has been building a new team behind the scenes, including Louise Shand-Brown ( Sadler’s Wells, Royal Ballet, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Russell Maliphant Company) and Farooq Chaudhry, co-founder of Akram Khan Company. He said “English National Ballet has an energy and vision which excites me and reminds me of how Akram Khan and I started out. It offers me an opportunity to flex my producer muscles in new and different ways. When Tamara Rojo tells me with utmost conviction she wants to change the way ballet companies are run, I believe her. She is a visionary who sees things others don’t and I am thrilled by the challenge of working with this remarkable woman and her team and helping to make English National Ballet a ballet company for today and the future.”

Lest We Forget , Barbican Theatre, 2 – 12 April 2014

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