The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance at the Royal Opera House
The Royal Ballet School Annual Performance
8th July 2011
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Dedicating this performance to its founder, Dame Ninette de Valois (actually by birth, Edris Stannus), The Royal Ballet School chose her carefully choreographed game of chess to open the show. Checkmate has never been a favourite of mine; the story is too clunky, ponderous and downright old-fashioned. Heritage ballets have their place but its inclusion made this programme over-long, taking place as it did in the evening rather than its usual matinee slot, leaving some tired youngsters in the audience by the 10.30pm close. That said, the students performed it admirably, with Grete Borud Nybakken commanding the stage as the spiky Black Queen, the Red Pawns delightfully tiny and vulnerable and the four Red and Black Knights in synchronicity with each other. Credit too, to Calum Lowden, who is off to the Royal Swedish Ballet, for superbly acting the part of the doddery old Red King – at his age and with his talent he should not be subjected to the character roles.*
Liam Scarlett, a dancer with the Royal Ballet company and previous winner of the Ninette de Valois choreographic award in 2005, thereby continuing the theme of the evening, showcased his Danse Bohémienne for year 8 students, who did him proud with their neat footsteps and interaction with each other.
Ashton’s Monotones 11, with its vastly unflattering all-white body suits complete with petalled swimming caps is another ballet of speculative use, even with the sparkles. Antonia McAuley wafted, sometimes awkwardly, between her two partners who all seemed ill at ease with their costumes and each other.
A much prettier ballet is The Four Seasons by MacMillan, here danced in excerpts by 2nd year students in rippling pastel dresses, compelling the dancers to whirl their skirts as they whipped and jumped through Verdi’s sumptuous music. Dancer of the night was Laura Day, here dressed in fondant pink and literally spell-binding because of her beautiful epaulment matched with darting, curvaceously arched feet. Last year I picked her out too, saying “MacMillan’s Concerto is well known and The Royal Ballet company dances it superbly. I picked out Laura Day in the First and Third Movement; I’d like to see more of her dancing.” Wish granted.
Spring and Fall, Neumeier’s ballet for four dancers – here danced by graduates Claudia Dean (off to the Royal Ballet), Jacopo Bellussi (to the Bavarian State Ballet), Austin Lui (to the Ballet de l’Opera National de Bordeaux) and Tomas Mock (The Royal Ballet) – is a curious blend of elegance and sadness with echoes of Balanchine’s Apollo. Dressed in white, the bare-chested pajama’ed male dancers appear to play games while Dean shows her flowing port de bras to maximum effect.
David Bintley’s En Bateau lifted the mood with its watery margins at the front of the stage, provoking much chilly dipping of toes – very traditional English seaside though the parasol was a touch ambitious! Has anyone ever found straw boaters comfortable to wear ? Our trio kept up the theme without ever wincing at tight temples. Knickerbockers, paddles, Edwardian bathing suits, picnic baskets and the aforementioned parasol – you get the picture. It was a beautiful one, cleverly drawn by the students and a great choice for this programme. India De Vere really shone in the 4th Movement.
The highlight of the evening is always the Grande Defile, but this evening provided another – Opus 1, choreographed by John Cranko. Utterly heavenly. From the start, with one dancer wearing nude tights in the foetal position, lying on top of a circle of feet, the moody lighting and curious movement draws you in. The dancers begin moving in complex patterns to keep the uppermost dancer aloft by means of their feet alone, until a lone girl in white appears and he slips off to the side and solemnly dances with her. All praise to Gina Scott and Greig Matthew (who are off to Dresden and the Vienna State Opera Ballet’s respectively) who dripped refined feeling from every pore, saturating the stage with their skill. I mentioned Scott last year as she danced the glorious Fractals, “The scene is set with just a slit of light skimming the floor, reminding me of a foggy November evening where the darkness folds into the stage, with a couple standing either side of it. Credit to Gina Scott, whose strong feet, stable balances, confidence and ability lit up the stage.” Later on, an anguished Matthew collapsed on the floor while the boys carried their partners in high lifts, only to release them big-dipper style head first towards the floor in slow, controlled movements, arms caressing the floor as they leave the stage.
The Grand Defile, to Etudes by Karl Czerny is a whip-cracker of a show; fiery from the start and ramping up the speed and difficulty as successions of dancers from every year of the school highlight what they’ve mastered over the course of a year. By the end, with every student racing from the wings on stage together, the deafening roar of the audience could probably be heard in the Piazza. It’s a winner, as are the students & teachers of The Royal Ballet School.
*Since publishing this review I have been made aware of the fact that Calum Lowden has been suffering from a serious back injury and hence with the inclusion of Checkmate, there was a role that he could suitably perform for his graduation. This obviously throws a different light on why he was chosen for that role and I acknowledge that here. However, when reviewing a show, I have to say what I see. I wish Lowden well for a full recovery.