Ballet News Reviews | The Royal Ballet School Annual Matinee Performance
The Royal Ballet School
Annual Matinee Performance
Royal Opera House, London
14th July 2013
This isn’t what I expected to be writing, but the stand-out piece from the Annual Matinee was a contemporary one – Seven Greek Dances (excerpts) by Maurice Béjart. It was the stand-out because of the mood created by the magical triumvirate of evocative music (Mikis Théodorakis), clever choreography and beguiling dancing. With all the dancers on stage under wands of ashy light, they move slowly to sounds that are a cross between waves crashing on a beach and gunfire. It’s a compelling picture to start with.
And what dancing ! The stand-out dancer of the entire programme was Esteban Hernandez, who is perfect in every detail. He has the strength to hold the adagio positions, or to power through repeated jetés from a standing start and is as glossy as ganache. He has the grace & sensitivity to partner well and in case you are wondering, he later proved himself in the classical style with La Destinée and then a virtuoso spot in the Grand Défilé. Yes, he can turn as well. He’s going to San Francisco Ballet.
Seven Greek Dances was re-staged for the school by Jean-Yves Esquerre, a former member of Béjart’s company. The piece has a warm, Mediterranean feel and this is captured by the languorous simplicity of the physical language. Certainly, the heat haze was real enough. But make no mistake : the warbling lilt of the music can’t sustain the mood alone; one wobble from Hernandez and the magic would have been lost. He didn’t. His unique mix of filigree delicate precision matched with an iron core was unmatched. Possibly unmatchable. Time will tell.
Ably supported by eight girls all turning quickly and together (timing wasn’t always this exact), Hernandez partnered Yaoqian Shang, who joins Birmingham Royal Ballet. Shang is a clean, watchable dancer with lovely lines and their pas de deux in low lighting was exemplary. A fine group of dancers accompanied them including Matthew Knight (joins Zurich Ballet 2), Suzan Opperman (joins Vienna State Opera Ballet), Joan Zamora and Hannah Thomas.
Here is a snapshot of Siete danzas griegas
For the School, the centrepiece of the programme was La Destinée, specially commissioned by Stephen and Caroline Butt to recognise Gailene Stock’s contribution to the School as Director, and is choreographed by Mark Annear. Everything is brand new, with costumes by Gary Harris and music by Michael England.
The programme states “an abandoned ballroom… a woman alone… remembers…”
The costumes are grand swags of terracotta, sangria and gold, with Prussian blue and military detailing for the men, and the dusty ballroom is depicted by a series of wrought iron chandeliers and a dazzling diamond necklace. A string quintet from The Royal Academy of Music performed on a raised part of the stage, playing new instruments from the Calleva Collection (a significant collection of new instruments crafted by the finest makers).
The star roles go to Annette Buvoli, David Donnelly (both joining The Royal Ballet) and Danielle Muir (joining Berlin Ballet), with the woman in later life (a non-dancing role) performed by Lucie Dennis. Muir has a slightly lawless glance ferocious enough to freeze the Tropics, and a possessive hand, Buvoli had the pick of the dancing and Donnelly had to pick his way between them, a masterful menu of misunderstandings. They were ably supported by a Corps of strong waltzing dancers, like butterflies dancing around the edges of winter.
La Destinée is ambitious and grand, and the dancing is very good, with touches of La Valse and Cinderella in music and mood. It has dramatic panache and shows the dancers to be capable of a great range of emotions wrapped up in some delicious dancing. But it doesn’t feel age-appropriate. There’s nothing light-hearted, only the angst-ridden memories of older people that the students can’t have had any real notion of at their age. Just as when the dancers tackled The Lilac Garden in a previous year, they proved themselves more than capable but it was a stretch to imagine such young dancers really living those roles. It was refreshing to lose the many character dances that the students dance most years with something fresh and new, but where were the references to modern life that the students are actually living and that today’s audience can relate to ? Where was the fun ?
Another contemporary piece – Canon in D Major from Le Souffle de l’Esprit with music by Otto Bubeniček after Johann Pachelbel and choreography by Jiri Bubeniček showcased three male graduates in fluid & mesmerising style. Bubeniček is a principal dancer with the Semperoper Ballet. Dressed in sharp white trousers and bare-chested, clever lighting isolates a hand or arm.
Takahiro Tamagawa (joins Dortmund Ballet), Joan Zamora (joins English National Ballet) and Esteban Hernandez were hyphens of electricity, rippling with some bravura across the vastness of the Royal Opera House stage. Such presence is rare.
The Matinee performance opened with Youth Concerto, with students from Lower and Upper School in dazzling white tutus and sharp black for the boys. A large cast of Lower and Upper School students filled the stage with lovely arabesque lines, right to the back of the huge stage.
To those dancers who found themselves placed at the back I’d say this : it’s a long way back and hard to see you from a lot of the seats. Put yourself forward for the roles you feel you can do, that will take you to the front of the stage, where you’ll be noticed. I’ve written a whole feature on why that’s important.
Sonata for Six by Royal Ballet Soloist Valentino Zucchetti had four boys and two girls from the 2nd year Upper School, often paired in threes and tackling high lifts and makes good use of vertical lines on stage.
The Grand Défilé is a showstopper and that’s all there is to it. Wave after dazzling wave of students in every shade of pink, blue and black smile to the audience and make it look easy. Of course it’s not, and that’s the point. What you see is the result of years of dedication from everyone involved, and the fact that they pull it off year after year with such a thrilling finale leaves everyone feeling electrified.