English National Ballet commemorate First World War in Manchester and London

By Richard Moss | 15 May 2014

Imperial War Museum North and the National Portrait Gallery are the settings for ballet performances  marking the First World War Centenary


A ballet dancer leaps in front of a group portrait of generals
English National Ballet’s Anton Lukovkin dances in front of ‘General Officers of World War I’ by John Singer Sargent © Jorge Herrera
The English National Ballet is marking the centenary of the First World War with two powerful performances in unique settings during Museums at Night 2014.

The one-off pieces, which have been specially developed for the centenary, take place at the National Portrait Gallery in London and Imperial War Museum North in Salford. They bring together some of the country’s principal talents in contemporary dance and ballet.

At the gallery, a site-specific dance performance inspired by David Jones’ seminal First World War poem, In Parenthesis, has been choreographed by English National Ballet Associate Artist George Williamson.

Making use of several gallery spaces, including the gallery's critically-acclaimed First World War in Portraits exhibition, it evokes the poet’s experience of life on the front during the First World War. 

Jones enlisted in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and served on the Western Front from December 1915 to March 1918. Like John Ball, the protagonist of In Parenthesis, he saw action on the Western Front. Both were wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

A rich, beautiful and complex book-length poem which took 20 years to write, it was published by Faber and Faber in 1937 with an introduction by TS Eliot, and includes the memorable line "you scramble forward and pretend not to see, but ruby drops from young beech-sprigs – are bright your hands and face".

At Imperial War Museum North a unique, one-night-only performance by English National Ballet marks the First World War Centenary with a specially-created piece by award-winning and internationally acclaimed British choreographer Russell Maliphant.

The performance, called Second Breath, has been inspired by letters, diaries, photographs and personal stories from the museum's national collections. It takes place in the Manchester venue's atmospheric main exhibition space, next to iconic objects including the field gun that fired the British Army’s first shot of the war.

Part of a packed evening at IWM North, the piece will be filmed by the BBC as part of their coverage of Museums at Night, accompanied by a range of events including music spun by Vintage 78 DJs, object handling and live poetry performances with readings of works by Dylan Thomas and Wilfred Owen.

IWM's major exhibition, From Street to Trench: A World War that Shaped a Region, featuring more than 200 objects, films, sound recordings, photographs, artworks and letters, can also be explored during the evening.

  • Late Shift Extra: In Parenthesis is at the National Portrait Gallery on May 16 2014. Runs 6pm-8.40pm (gallery activities until 10pm). Admission free. Reactions14: Second Breath with English National Ballet is at IWM North on May 17 from 6.30pm. Performances at 7.45pm and 8.30pm. Tickets are £10, book online.
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a photo of a ballet dancer being held aloft
The English National Ballet at IWM North
a black and white photo of a soldier carrying another over his shoulder
One of the images from IWM’s collections of First World War photographs and personal stories which inspired Russell Maliphant’s choreography for Second Breath. An Australian carrying his wounded mate to a medical aid post for treatment, Gallipoli, 1915.© IWM Q 13622
a photo of a male ballet dancer leaping in front of a mass portrait of naval officers
Anton Lukovkin dances in front ‘Naval Officers of World War I’ by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope at the National Portrait Gallery © Jorge Herrera
a photo of a working party of First World War soldiers walking along duckboards
A working party of the Manchester Regiment moving up to the trenches near Serre in France, January 1917. IWM’s vast collections of First World War photographs and personal stories inspired Russell Maliphant’s choreography for Second Breath.© IWM Q 1972
a photo of a male and female ballet dancer in a hold
English National Ballet at IWM North

Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit museumsatnight.org.uk and follow the festival on Twitter@MuseumsAtNight.


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