Agony & Ecstacy: The BBC’s Year with English National Ballet

Daria Klimentova

Daria Klimentova

Last year was English National Ballet‘s 60th Anniversary and the BBC spent that year with the company.

The result is this three-part series of sixty-minute episodes, currently being re-shown on BBC 4, Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet.

The first episode followed the rehearsals and eventual performance of Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall.

As the English National Ballet is blessed with talented choreographers and ballerinas so too they have blessed the BBC with a cast of characters for this series.

There is the choreographer Derek Deane a friendly (ish) autocrat who bullies and only very occasionally flatters the dancers under his direction. Close to the opening performance the Musical Director Gavin Sutherland gets an earful for his in Deane’s view errant tempos – in contrast Sutherland’s view of a lot of hot-air vent by Deane – alas the BBC Cameras did not film this encounter – or if they did diplomatically chose not to show it!

English National Ballet Swan Lake Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Then there is the leading man or boy – shy twenty old Russian Vadim Muntagirov – is he inarticulate because he is shy or because of his English or because he has little to say. It is not clear but on stage he transforms as Prince Siegried, his ballet moves as eloquent a testimony as any words he might have spoke.

Finally there is ENB Lead-ballerina Czech Daria Klimentova filling in for absent Work-Visa-delayed international ballet superstar Russian Polina Semionova, as Princess Odette. Now 38 which in ballet terms is quite old and as another of the troupe euphemistically called her ‘in the autumn of her years’ and of which she self-deprecatingly said regarding her pending first-night performance that she is not that nervous as she is hardly going to be discovered and hailed a ballet-star at this late stage of her career.

Daria Klimentova in Romeo and Juliet

Her performance though confounded her and the doubting director’s, it being compared to Margot Fonteyn as the young Russian compared to Rudolph Nureyev. She was as delightful off-stage as elegant on-stage.

Alongside the prima-ballerinas were the supporting cast which in Swan Lake’s case included sixty swans for sixty years of the English National Ballet and sixty ballerinas required giving additional opportunities for ballet-dancers in what can be fleeting and occasional ones in these very competitive rehearsals.

Notable too was the wear and tear on the ballerina’s bodies – the bone, muscle and tendon injuries, the daily blisters and scuffs.

Successful Swan Lake Candidate Ballerina

The BBC program is not just following the performers and choreographers but those behind the scenes – the managers and administrators and other background support. In the year the UK Coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government announced Arts funding cuts to pay for the bankers who caused the 2008 Global financial crisis to continue living the uber-wealthy life they are accustomed English National Ballet is having to reflect what this could mean for their own future. Being as taxpayer funding is a significant contributor to their touring work.

In this first episode the Managing Director Craig Hassall is only floating the possibility of cuts and beginning to explore options open to them – no performances and staff jobs have yet been lost.

The second and third episodes will centre around performances of Romeo & Juliet and Christmas Nutcracker respectively and new ballerinas and choreographers for we the viewers to get to know.

The trials and joys of running the English National Ballet and the staff involved will though remain and I am looking forward to watching how they face these challenges, alongside the backdrop of abundant beautiful ballet.

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