English National Ballet, St Paul’s Cathedral, London

It is a fact of history that dancing was part of medieval Christian services – “the canon will dance”, declared the rubric, and the Seises still do in Seville Cathedral – and even in more recent times some congregations have worked dance into their worship. (Is it possible for dancers to look sanctimonious? Alas, yes!)

So no surprises in finding English National Ballet in a packed St Paul’s on Tuesday night, a stage built beneath the dome, the orchestra placed in front, and all part of the golden jubilee celebrations of the City of London Festival. Very jolly, with the building’s echo adding reverberant lustre to orchestral sound, the stupendous distractions of the cathedral’s interior to beguile the eye, and no matter that the dancers’ feet were at times less than visible.

The programme brought new work, made in house – a realisation of part of Vivaldi’s oh-so-vivacious Four Seasons by Van le Ngoc; Antony Dowson’s response to gluey religiosities by John Rutter – and the participation of the City Chamber Choir, a fine advocate for the Rutter score and the Fauré Pavane (whose words are fête galante poesy by, of all people, Robert de Montesquiou).

The fascination of the event was the staging of Suite en blanc, Serge Lifar’s splendiferous proclamation about French classical dancing as he shaped it, and here admirably adapted to the exigencies of the temporary stage and responding to St Paul’s acoustic. Maina Gielgud (who knows the piece with as much affection as I bring to writing about it) ordered the choreography and the dance forces with grand skill and sensitivity.

ENB’s dancers were happy partners: I salute them, with a hero’s laurels to Max Westwell for strong and idiomatic dancing, to Vadim Muntagirov, who brought the mazurka to tremendous life, and to Elena Glurdjidze, who was all sophistication and nuanced phrasing in the Cigarette solo. I offer my heart to Anaïs Chalendard for her account of the Flute variation. She danced this with the prettiest, most elegant wit. I grew up with (and adored) the sublime Yvette Chauviré, who created it for Lifar: Mlle Chalendard made me forget those glories for the space of the solo. Mes hommages.


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