English National Ballet is changing: Tamara Rojo, as Artistic Director, has brought a new focus on building technique while developing younger talent. At Saturday night’s performance of The Sleeping Beauty in Oxford I noticed consistently sharper footwork and technical accuracy, although I felt that some of the cast were so concerned with precision that at times they risked becoming almost static. I was impressed by their control and stability but thought that they sometimes held their backs too rigidly upright, and that there is a need now to acquire a greater flow of movement.

I liked Shiori Kase’s Bluebird Princess very much (no lack of fluidity in her performance!) although the Bluebird himself (Laurent Liotardo) needed more strength and stamina. Some of the Fairy variations were lovely, particularly the Songbird Fairy (again, Shiori Kase), who had terrific speed and crisp changes of direction.  Glurdjidze as Aurora was excellent: she is a restrained and poised princess, beautifully on balance, with charming and easy unsupported pirouettes. Her cool and remote manner showed her at her best in the Vision scene, but she also generated a real frisson of excitement in the audience as she made her entrance in the First Act.

It is very encouraging to see new talented dancers coming up through the ranks are being given a chance to dance important roles. Alison McWhinney, one of the competitors in the Emerging Dancer Competition, gave the Lilac Fairy remarkable stage presence and authority, although she still needs to develop more strength, and also more confidence in her pirouettes.

ENB is the only major English classical ballet company regularly to visit Oxford. It is inevitable that for box office reasons they will probably focus on the classics that sell so well, but I hope that under their new direction they will bring us novelty by continuing to push forward artistically and technically, and by introducing us to exciting new dancers.

Maggie Watson

1 March 2013