Review: English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth/La Sylphide @ Palace Theatre, Manchester

Performing two very different stories back-to-back, the English National Ballet takes Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Frank Anderson’s recreation of La Sylphide to create one stunning production at the Palace Theatre.

Opening the show, Song of the Earth, which is based on Mahler’s haunting song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, tells the story of love, loss and morality using three central figures which symbolise life and its constant renewal.

The set, which is undecorated and has only a black backdrop, is somewhat simplistic. The same can be said for the costumes which are inelaborately black and white.

This monochrome setting leaves the impeccable choreography and the opera singers, who narrate the story in German, to bring the performance to life.

Ronda Brown (contralto) and Samuel Sekker (tenor) give a voice to Mahler’s song cycle through six songs. This is brought together by the English National Ballet Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland, who holds the performance together.

Returning with its second piece, La Sylphide tells the story of the engaged lovers James and Effy. James is led into temptation by an enigmatic messenger, La Sylphide, in a story that weaves love, comedy and sorcery into one enchanting performance.

La Sylphide is set in Scotland and unlike Song Of The Earth this is reflected in the stage design.

The vivid and colorful set, which shows a castle and forest, is a feast for the eyes. The same can be said for the costumes which are styled like traditional Scottish dresses and kilts. 

Unlike the first performance, the audience immediately engages with the story and it is received with laughter in many parts.

Issac Hernandez, who joined the company in 2015, is a fantastic male lead who takes those in attendance through his journey from the very start of the story – when he is first tempted by La Sylphide – right until the curtain comes down.

The female leads are Fernandez Oliviera, who plays his fiancée, and Jurgita Dronina, who plays La Sylhpide.

Both are not to be forgetten as the three lead performers weave their characters together to tell a captivating story.

Song of the Earth, which combines opera with beautiful choreography, is spectacular in itself. Yet, with a set and costumes which are somewhat bland it leaves the audience feeling slightly disconnected from the story.

It is without a doubt that La Slyphide which brings together a fantastical story and fuses it with an enchanting backdrop is the more exciting of the two ballets and the English National Ballet brings this story to life flawlessly.

*English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth/La Sylphide is playing at the Palace Theatre until Saturday, October 14. You can buy tickets HERE. 

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