English National Ballet’s season at the Royal Festival Hall – which ends this weekend – is a Good Thing. After the glitter of Gershwin at the Albert Hall, this triple bill is a reminder of what the company can do with classical ballet rather than Broadway. After an opening mishap (David Dawson’s unprovoked attack on Bach’s piano concerto) the evening provided artistry of distinction with a creation from Wayne Eagling and a revival of Harald Lander’s Études.

The Dawson piece is called A Million Kisses to my Skin, the choreographer’s description of his own experience of pleasure in dancing. I would have been pleased with a single peck on the cheek to help me sit through this gabble of dull steps, which summoned ice-skating pairs having a fractious time on the rink. Bach, his sublimities trodden underfoot, was bloodied, but ultimately unbowed.

It was not just that the succeeding new piece by Eagling was serious and well made: Resolution spoke about humanity in a language that was expressive, direct to the heart. The score is Mahler’s “Five Ruckert Songs”, given in a beautiful account by Elizabeth Sikora, and the music’s darkness has led Eagling to a contemplation of youthful suffering, inspired in part by his contact with victims of muscular dystrophy.

Life shortened and an ever-haunting sense of impermanence inform dance that lives with its music and does not diminish it. Here we have five women and four men, a bare, misty stage , simple costuming, and the songs not realised literally but understood. In “Um Mitternacht” with its grieving couples, and “Ich bin der Welt abhanden”, where two men care for a dying third male, Eagling achieves a dignity that is entirely in accord with Mahler. It is a fine achievement.

And to close the evening, Études. Elena Glurdjidze is the ballerina the piece demands – bold and assured – along with the debut of a remarkable young danseur, the Czech-born Zdenek Konvalina. He takes the stage and tells us that here is what he loves best: the dance – clear, gleaming, fired by enthusiasm and authority. A spiffing debut.


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