Wings have long held a special significance in ballet. In “Swan Lake,”
Odette’s feathery port de bras become a devastating symbol of her captivity; in
“La Sylphide” the titular sylph loses her wings, and her life, in an ill-fated
embrace. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Broken Wings” is one of the latest ballets to
harness this freighted imagery, albeit more loosely. Created in 2016 for
English National Ballet and reprised as part of ENB’s new “She Persisted” bill,
the production is a vibrant tribute to the painter Frida Kahlo, capturing the
existential heartbreak she suffered when a bus crash at the age of 18 decimated
her health, and along with it her dream of becoming a doctor. Over the course
of Ochoa’s half-hour piece, Frida finds new ways into identity, femininity,
love and art, eventually recovering the wings she thought had been clipped
The set design is striking, a tropical dreamscape of dangling vines, sunset hues and men gussied up as technicolour Kahlo lookalikes (a powerful inversion of typical ballet archetypes). Ochoa matches this with a surreal topography of dance that tangles reality and make-believe: one moment Frida’s cavorting with her childhood sweetheart; the next she’s sidestepping a pack of skeletons, a piquant danse macabre that resurfaces throughout the ballet. Mirrors reflect her fantasies and terrors, including the coterie of creatures she conjures during her bedridden spells: hothouse blooms, spiky insects, a shy, tantalising fawn.
The ballet’s central role was created on ENB artistic director Tamara
Rojo, but soloist Katja Khaniukova makes it her own in this staging,
bringing a discerning wistfulness that reveals itself in fluttering fingertips
and quivering shakes of the leg. She soars in her climactic pas de deux with Irek
Mukhamedov, cast as the callous, corpulent Diego Rivera, swishing her skirt
with breezy sensuality. Later, when the grief of Diego’s infidelities and
Frida’s infertility are laid bare, she duets with one of the grim reapers, abandoning
herself to anguished backwards arches. The constant spectre of mortality both imprisons
Frida and liberates her, giving her a no-holds-barred freedom to explore her
The ballet’s brightest moments dance at the margins of this tension,
interrogating the various power dynamics it incites. More muted are the ensemble
performances; the male doppelgangers in particular are slack in their timing
and a little careless with the tight, clear-cut lines of the choreography.
“Nora,” a brand-new ballet from ENB first artist Stina Quagebeur, suffers no such laxity; all eight dancers are on pointe, delivering springing sautés and tight, glancing turns. Like the other works in “She Persisted,” Quagebeur’s zeros in on feminist concerns, this time the turmoil of a stifled housewife, Nora. Inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s nineteenth-century play A Doll’s House, the ballet illuminates her disillusionment with marriage and quest for self-realisation, a struggle that ultimately prompts her to leave her family.
The opening scene thrusts us straight into our heroines mind of
uncertainty with a suggestive, whispery voiceover: “I have to do it.” Crystal
Costa illuminates Nora’s distress with fleet, jolting gestures, while a
silver-suited chorus plays tug-of-war with her emotions, first pulling her into
the domestic fray and later pushing her to escape. There’s an upright linearity
to the choreography and a gripping fluidity to its silhouettes, the dancers
reaching, wrenching, coiling. Costa excels at these molten shapes, the ensemble
lifting and cradling her sinuous frame.
The ballet’s plot isn’t always accessible—Junor Souza’s creditor arrives and disappears with little impact—but Nora’s arc is articulated intelligently, particularly the tumult with her husband (Jeffrey Cirio), who goes from ignoring her strife to undermining it with a righteous, frustrated dance of defiance. His last-ditch attempt to keep Nora from leaving is emotively rendered—by this time, her anger has dissolved into resignation, and her departure is all the more distressing for it.
Pina Bausch’s “The Rite of Spring” rounds off the bill with a gut-punch
of atavistic misogyny. The ENB ensemble nails the brute force of this 1975 masterpiece,
which pits a flock of trembling maidens against a pack of panting men, their
power imbalance as foul as the dirt they dance on. Francesca Velicu emerges as
the Chosen One, doomed to dance herself to death, while Precious Adams manages
to make it out alive, though not without some lascivious partnerwork forced
upon her. The piece matches shuddering bursts of combat with eddies of balletic
spins, all woven into the wriggling strings of Igor Stravinsky’s avant-garde
A huffing, chugging dance circle is a highlight, as is a tense passage where
the women freeze like gazelles as the men sniff out their fear. The sprints aren’t
always as urgent as the setting calls for, but the performance is fierce, unrelenting,
the dancers primed for battle and ready to brawl.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.