Ballet News Reviews | The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance

July 16, 2012


Ballet News Reviews | The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance

two ballet dancers dressed in pink

Simple Symphony Photograph : Johan Persson

The Royal Ballet School

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Sunday, July 15th 2012

I want to start right off by saying that this years performance was the strongest I’ve ever seen from The Royal Ballet School students – right across the board from Lower to Upper School.  The cleverly chosen repertory showcased diverging styles, leaving no doubt that these students are versatile, but there was more to it than that.  There was a confidence, a joie de vivre, a core strength that hasn’t always been written right through them. This time it was. And it showed.

If ever there was a sure thing, it’s that Second Year student Anna Rose O’Sullivan will join The Royal Ballet next year. But there’s someone else I want you to keep an eye on. Yaoqian Shang.  Outstanding in everything and with grace, charisma and talent to spare. Rare dancers perfume the stage, leaving the audience with a trail of intoxicating anticipation.  Darcey Bussell had it; Tamara Rojo & Marianela Nuñez have it; so does Shang.

Jubilation is a celebration of youth, with the dancers in red, white-tipped tutus on stage from the start. Lovely quiet pointe shoes and taut lines throughout made this a wonderful start to the performance.

Matthew Hart’s Games for Gods showcases the Ancient Olympic Games as we approach the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games later this month. Backlit in orange it looks as though half the school are on stage as they process onto the stage in formations and mimic the shape of laurel leaves with their arms. The Olympic Torch is held aloft by Joseph Sissens, who has a lovely solo, and even the smallest girls in pale blue tunics were supremely heroic. There are chariots of ballet dancers, difficult adagio sections and it’s a timely, well-rehearsed spectacle. In fact, everything has been well rehearsed and it’s incredibly hard to keep your mind on the fact that these are students you’re watching.

two ballet dancers dressed in white

Yonderling. Photograph : Johan Persson

Alastair Marriott has a genius of a ballet in Simple Symphony, which was specially commissioned for the Second Year students in this performance, with the students brilliantly rehearsed by David Peden. Jewel colours of green, rose-pink, magenta pink and orange beam out as the dancers tackle some ferocious beats. Here Yaoqian Shang and Esteban Hernandez were in their element, alongside Anna Rose O’Sullivan and her partner Marcelino Sambé. Suzan Opperman and Matthew Ball complete the trio and along with the spot-on Corps, this ballet is nothing like its name suggests. The dancers showed great control in the slow extensions and beautifully arched, strong feet. Musically they were right on the music too.  As the ballet progressed I wanted to see the girl and boy in rose-pink dance together (Shang and Hernandez) and when they did it was worth the wait. Shang’s feet make perfect steel edged commas and she is ably supported by her partner.

four male ballet dancers in silhoutte

Uneven Ground. Photograph : Johan Persson

One of the departures in classical style was perhaps the most successful – Paul Boyd’s Uneven Ground to music by the Argentinian Mercedes Sosa. Sosa’s vocals match the relaxed Latin American mood and the dusky background strewn with tasselled hammocks makes for an interesting set. It’s the perfect showcase for male dancers in baseball caps and cargos – or is it ?  Loose and low in the hips, strong, insouciant and fun-loving, these guys made it look easy. From a low, low plie into soaring, spinning turns into a dead stop, the mood was infectious and the moves spot on. Except it wasn’t quite as simple as that. The arrival of Marta Navarrete Villalba, long black hair and long limbs wildly spinning as she captures their attention – and holds it, signals a change in mood as the group turn their focus towards her. Villalba had in fact been one of the dancers all along but she suddenly appears to the audience by removing her cap and revealing her long hair, a coup de theatre, if you like. The piece was created for Queensland Ballet in 2001 and does what is says on the tin – it showcases the raw power of male dancers. They were : Axel Alvarez, Matthew Astley, Jonah Cook, Solomon Golding, Isaac lee-Baker, Lachlan Monaghan and Donald Thom.

Un Ballo is a shadowy, inky contemporary dance by Jirí Kylián to music by Ravel. Premiered in 1991 by Nederlands Dance Theatre 2, this is billed as an exercise in musicality and sensitivity between male and female partners.  Seven couples dressed in black with the girls in bare feet dance over a black canvas highlighted only by a low slung gantry of pale candles. Mariana Rodrigues (who joins Northern Ballet next season) shows her sensitive side with soft, creamy movements and though there is no story, you do pick up on the emotions transmitted between the couples.

four ballet dancers dressed in black

Un Ballo. Photograph : Johan Persson

By contrast, Yonderling provides a rainbow of emotions. John Neumeier’s choreography sees the dancers all dressed in white, and Thomas Hampson’s rich voice gives the detail of each section.  Molly! Do you Love Me ? danced by Lily Howes and Daniele Silingardi, That’s What’s the Matter and Ah! May the Red Rose Live Always! stood out, the latter with Yaoqian Shang demonstrating her range. The ending, with the group lying on the stage, hands touching, with one lone dancer circling the group, at once fluidly and with staccato on a loop, as the curtain comes down, is very moving.

The appreciative gasp from the audience as the tabs went back for Paquita, to reveal lavish golden swags right across the stage, set the scene for this very classical piece after Marius Petipa to music by Léon Minkus. There’s no hiding place in this classical test of skill and nerves.  Mayara Magri (who joins the Royal Ballet next season) and Skyler Martin (to Dutch National Ballet) danced the lead roles with fantastic support from the Corps in golden tutus (Mariana Rodrigues made the most of the choreography) and the very neat, together, Pas de Trois, who were Evangeline Ball (Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux), Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Lachlan Monaghan (Birmingham Royal Ballet). Magri pulled off the fouettes with no trouble; her strong technique and nerves of steel made her look at home on the vast Opera House stage and this is how she landed her contract with the Royal Ballet.

ballet dancer jetes across the stage

Mayara Magri in Paquita. Photograph : Johan Persson

What can you say about the Défilé ? The staff of the Royal Ballet School choreograph wave after wave of students to Karl Czerny’s wonderfully spirited music Études, urging on ever more daring feats until the end has to come, and with the graduate year in the middle of the stage, every student in the school runs onto the stage at once to gasps from the audience (especially the ones who were seeing this for the first time) until they are lined up with military precision according to their year; ribbons of black, through hues of blue to delicate pink.

rows of ballet students on stage

The students of the Royal Ballet School in the Grand Defile 2012 Photograph : Johan Persson

What you want to see at the Annual Performance is the glorious result of the blood, sweat and tears that make up ballet life behind the scenes to lift the spirits, making it all worthwhile.  You want to see why the Royal Ballet School ranks so highly in England and why a place there is so highly prized, and you want to know for sure that you are watching the very best dancers. We definitely saw excellence on Sunday, from all concerned – the students of course but also the staff and stage crew, wardrobe, wigs, sound and lighting that all came together to make one unmissable show.

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12 Responses to “Ballet News Reviews | The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance”

  1. Ballet News Says:

    Anne Walker said : A FANTASTIC evening! Well done all. x

  2. GS Says:

    Lovely review. I just wanted to add, however, that, in Uneven Ground, Marta does not suddenly appear. She is one of the original eight dancers. The audience is intended to think she’s one of the boys – her baseball cap hides her hair. It’s not until she takes off the cap that it’s apparent that she’s a girl.

  3. Ballet News Says:

    thank you GS. With regard to Marta’s ‘appearance’, to the audience it seems that she suddenly appears, which is what I was describing. I understand your point though!

  4. Ballet News Says:

    Christopher Ivor Cooke said : Yes I wholeheartedly agree with this review summarising a magnificent performance by all concerned. The only point of contention I have is that Etudes is more generally known as being the work of Riisger that we all hear today based only upon Karl Czerny’s original composition.

  5. Ballet News Says:

    hristopher, thank you for your comment. Knadage Riisager did indeed arrange and orchestrate Karl Czerny’s work though I think Czerny’s music is an equally acceptable way of referring to it.

  6. M E E Says:

    Is there a photo where you can see all the students?, as some group years seem to be missed off the ends in this photo. The reviews are great, we missed the performance, as we were dancing in our own show last weekend. Hopefully we can make it next year.

  7. Ballet News Says:

    MEE thank you for your comment and question. If you are talking about the Defile photograph, this is the official one released by the RBS to the press. If there is a version that shows every student, it has not been released to the press which is why you don’t see it here. I’m sorry if your family members or friends were missed off; as the years progress and they make it towards the middle of the stage, you will be able to see them. I think a photograph showing everyone would be so tiny as to render it fairly unhelpful in terms of spotting any particular dancer, hence the crop you see here, which, by the way, happens most years. Hopefully you will be able to watch for yourself next year!

  8. Louise Jones Says:

    I am amazed at your review. Where we looking at the same show? The young dancers were of course fine – but the choice of material was boring beyond belief. Most of the pieces were far too long and after 10 or so minutes you were desperate for the next thing. There was a samey quality to everything. The Olympic piece was truly awful with hoards of people marching and running around. Id this the Royal Ballet School?
    Paquita – one waited desperately for – at last some high classical ballet: something requiring the absolute skills o the art form..the dancers tried their best but difficult when theta do not have the training to use their epaulement. The absence of character dance and acting skills shows greatly in Paquita – stiff arms, backs, no head, or attack, – all managed to reduce this powerful masterpiece to something as boring as everything that went before. I too have watched many Royal ballet Shows – you think this was the best? – you need to see what is happening elsewhere in the world. I can’t remember when I last saw a Royal Ballet School matinee on the main stage = when there has been a high classical pas de deux. Most pieces do not demand the ultimate ballet skills – it’s time we saw more high classical ballet from this school.

    • Joe Bloggs Says:

      Can I say that it is a sad day when the up and coming ARTISTS i.e. dancers of the 21st CENTURY can only aspire to a genre of ‘high’ classical ballet that was primarily defined and created by one single man way over a century ago. Moreover, one can not consider oneself an artist if all you create or in this case perform is quite irrelevant to the modern era. I appreciate one must be balanced when it comes to this matter, yet I suspect that your indifference is in fact a complete lack of sympathy for something slightly more meaningful than epaulement, maybe give the matinee a miss next year and stick to some dated YouTube videos or something.

      • Louise Jones Says:

        You are missing the point. if you can do high classical ballet – to an amazing standard you can do anything. That is why in a school performance it is necessary to show you have those skills. Appreciate it is necessary to evolve and do modern pieces – but in this particular show because the modern pieces dominated – and by comparison they are not demanding – it is impossible to see the true potential of any of the dancers. the reluctance to do high classical works begs the question – can they ? Modern Pieces as you know do not require as much strength and control – movements tend to be less held and tend to mesh into one another many more people can do this than can do the highest work . The point about the show is , i understand that Modern is just as important and necessary as classical ballet nowadays and they should show they can do it , but the point is the majority of the show was modern and the ballet they was not a high enough standard . Take a look at the other schools around the world , Vaganova ,Bolshoi ,Paris , i have seen their annual performances and they too do modern pieces but again their majority of the show is ballet after all its a ballet school with pas de deux’s, extracts from ballets and giving dancers the opportunity to show their talent . Hardly anyone in the RB show was given a solo and only one was given a pas de deux (Mayara Magri) and she had only been there a year ? This isn’t fair on the other students and is this because they physically cannot do it ? or the teachers have no faith they can ?? A school show must show the best of the school with modern but also some high ballet please, there is no place to hide and maybe that is what the school is trying to avoid .

  9. Ballet News Says:

    The only comment I’m going to make in response to the last three comments is this :

    Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion, but please remember that these are young people, which means that care should be taken over what is said (my preference is for thoughtful comment at all times here on Ballet News).

    I’m not saying you can’t be critical, but think about how you phrase it first, please. The dancers and students read Ballet News.

    In my review of the Annual Performance last year I was critical of some of the rep they performed which I felt was out-dated and didn’t showcase the dancers at their best (you can look up the review here on the website if you want to read it) and this year I thought they had a better selection of pieces across a wide range. Regardless of personal preference, it is important that the students learn a wide variety of styles because at companies such as The Royal Ballet they will be required to perform them.

    Regarding this particular Annual Performance, three of the pieces were classical and four had either classical elements on pointe or were of a different style. If you want to count the Defile then it’s evenly matched and I think that’s as good a balance as you’re going to get, given that the school is trying to reflect what the ballet companies are looking for.

  10. Dick Moore Says:

    In response to Louise Jones and Joe Bloggs. As a student of the school (under alias) I’m going to stand up for my school and classmates. Look at anything any company around the world is doing right now, and you will see that they likely perform more contemporary pieces than classical. This is due to the fact that there aren’t enough classical pieces to fill a whole programme (excluding full length classicals). And not every person coming to see a ballet is going to want to sit through a whole programme of classical. Also, dancing more contemporary pieces doesn’t require less technique or training as previously mentioned. Usually intact, they require more. More stability and control. Although movements look “thrown away” or “softer” they require a lot of strength to execute properly. Just as in Classical Ballet.

    Now, to your comment about Mayara Magri being the only person given a solo in the show and being there for only a year. This was a completely fair decision, and I think you can agree based on her performance in the matinee. Every girl was given the opportunity to perform that role, but she just happened to suit it. If you noticed there were also two other girls in “Paquita” who were given soloist roles and both performed them with aplomb. There was not only one soloist. In every piece in the matinee each student was given a chance to stand out.

    Now, I want to thank ballet news for your last comment. Students, teachers, and families of the school do read the comments on here. I think it wise you think carefully what you do say on here, especially regarding students.

    Personally, I am proud to say I come from the RBS and performed in the matinee and other performances this year. It showed the schools diversity, and how every student has progressed over the year.