Ballet News Reviews | The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance

ballet dancer jetes across the stage

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.