Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet

The arts in the United Kingdom are due to suffer heavily from cuts set out by the Tory government’s Spending Review. Between 2011 and 2015, £100 million is to be taken out of the English Arts Council’s funding, a fact made all the more difficult to bear because the majority of the cuts are to be implemented in the first two years.

The BBC is currently running a four-part series called Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet (readers in the UK can view the first episode here). The series follows one year within the English National Ballet, one of Britain’s three foremost ballet companies and one of the most prestigious touring ballet companies in Europe. Running perpendicular to the individual personal stories of each of the show’s characters is the company’s major production of Swan Lake.

We meet several characters in the first series, including one of the ENB’s principal dancers, Czech prima ballerina Daria Klimentová (above), a 38 year-old dancer reaching the end of her career. Daria is drafted in to the part of Odette for the rehearsal, with the newcomer Vadin. Vadin Muntagirov (also pictured above), one of the newest and youngest members of the company, has just arrived, age 20, from the world-famous Perm School in Minsk to take up the lead male role in the production – practically unheard of for a dancer of his experience.

Concurrently, above the pressure cooker of injuries, lack of punctuality, high-strung emotions and a desire for absolute perfection lurks the truly terrifying spectre of Derek Deane OBE, the Artistic Director and choreographer who will stop at nothing to beat the dancers into shape in time for opening night.

All the while, the company meets endlessly to discuss how it will find the money to stay above board and brace itself for one of the greatest financial hits it has ever taken.

As if this weren’t trouble enough, the international star Polina Semionova (above), due to play the part of the Swan on opening night, is having trouble getting a visa and the clock is ticking. 

The Hollywood film Black Swan has brought the obsessively perfectionist world of commercial ballet to thee screens and, briefly, to the forefront of our conciousness. In my opinion, the film has nothing on the reality, which is more shocking, more painful and more psychologically challenging than anything you would believe.

The world of ballet is fighting a losing battle to stay relevant in a time when few appreciate the beauty of its trade anymore. The dilemma of whether to stick to its guns and produce the same high calibre productions that it always has or to cut losses, take a risk and modernise is dominant. In the meantime, all I could think as I watched young men and women literally tear themselves apart for their art was that I’m going the next time I’m in London.


The Georgian National Ballet practices:

The Royal Danish Ballet apprentice dancer Oscar Nilsson (aged 16) for Hedi Slimane:


1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Current Affairs

One response to “Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet

  1. Anne

    You don’t have to go to the Ballet in London, the Scottish National Ballet is wonderful and frequently appears in Aberdeen,

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