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The Royal Ballet School in Ashton’s La Valse. © Tristram Kenton

The Royal Ballet School in Ashton’s La Valse. Photo Tristram Kenton

The pride and joy is palpable at the Royal Ballet School summer performances

LONDON: The Royal Ballet School summer performances in leafy Holland Park, West London have their own special charm. The al fresco setting means picnics in the park where proud parents and dancers mingling with audience in the cafes.

The pride and joy is palpable and it’s payback time for those gruelling hours in the studio as young dancers with bright eyes and high hopes step onto the stage.

This emotion was put into words in Petal Miller Ashmole’s Bottega, created for year 10 and 11 students. A voice-over told of life at White Lodge from leaving home all kitted out at the start of the first term, to the final goodbye, while the dance came in variations to music by Glazounov.

Victoria Ellwood and Isaac Martin had an unconventional pas de deux, a sensitive mix of youthful affection and mature understanding. Ella Newton, a dancer of ballerina poise, danced the Harp solo while Caspar Lench alternating with Martin Diaz, displayed brilliant turns and footwork in the male solo. Skilfully crafted, the ballet showed ballet tradition in a fresh-minted setting and gave each of the twenty-four dancers an opportunity to shine.

RBS Bottega

The Royal Ballet School in Bottega. Photo Tristram Kenton

This was also the case with the opening work, Let’s Begin, in which Anita Young, the doyen of White Lodge ballet teachers, gave seventy-seven dancers from years 7, 8 and 9 their chance. It was an amazing feat: constantly engaging as each small group ran on to dance a short enchainment, and enlightening as it revealed the clear progression. The steps became increasingly more challenging, and arguably, more fun and it was good to see how inclusive the standard was across each level. It was also a treat to enjoy live music from David Smith playing classical favourites from the ballet class.

For the Juniors there were also cheerful character dances, a meticulously rehearsed and executed Mazurka from Paquita and four pieces of student choreography. I felt Tianie-Finn Grainger’s Classified, was a particularly brave piece, venturing outside the box of ballet choreography and exploring interesting narratives and structures.

For Year 11, Robert Binet’s Earthborn pushed the students to their limit with some very challenging neo-classical choreography. The partnering explored difference and there was a continual subtext underpinning the moves, bringing the dance up-to-date, as it should be for this new generation.

Extracts from Act I of Coppélia showed more of the fine classical training in the Ear of Corn pas de deux danced by a delightful Swanhilda, Rimi Nakano, with strong support from Clark Eselgroth, as Franz and half a dozen lively Friends. A gutsy Czardas was led by Mia Bailey and Jack Bruce, two very engaging young performers.

Royal Ballet School

The Royal Ballet School in Flowers of the Forest, from left Johnny Randall, Sarah Keaveney, Matthew Bates, Xinyue Zhao, Liam Boswell and Ginevra Zambon Photo Tristram Kenton

Scottish Dances from Flowers of the Forest is one of David Bintley’s best. It was taken at a scorching pace by the third-year dancers who embraced it with glee. They had fun with the comedy, allowed a touch of serious romance in the pas de deux, and were a definite hit.

I was thrilled with the inclusion of an excerpt from Mats Ek’s Swan Lake as the great Swedish choreographer is not well known in the UK. Liam Boswell was a suitably melancholy Prince accompanied by his three companion jesters. Their witty trio to the famous cygnet’s music captured the comedy in well-defined movement.

The Royal Ballet School in Goyo Montero’s Pulse. © Tristram Kenton

The Royal Ballet School in Goyo Montero’s Pulse. Photo Tristram Kenton

Goya Montero’s Pulse filled the entire stage with fifty dancers from the Upper School in uniform grey unitards. He skilfully manoeuvres the group as they align themselves in organic forms that morph and change in an instant. The impulse arises from deep inside, develops through the whole body in powerful dance; standing or moving fluidly across the floor. The dancers build a group identity but often with a lone figure on the periphery, a breakaway rebel soon brought back to the fold. It’s a compelling work by a group of very committed dancers.

Two neo-classical works showed the dancers well up to speed with modern ballet. Alistair Marriot’s Simple Symphony to Benjamin Britten’s music, has three couples sharing the three movements. It is a delight of innovative partnering and dance with a distinct personality as each pair take the stage in a new psychedelic colour combination.

A corps de ballet of six couples providing the framework, their choreography equally challenging and the performance another example of fine schooling.

Ashley Page’s boys only Untied, Undone was a marvellous vehicle for the young men. It created an arena for athletic prowess as the Upper School, five from each year, leap and spun in Olympian fashion with technique firmly nailed and the enjoyment palpable.

The Royal Ballet School in Paquita.© Tristram Kenton

Paquita, Pas de Trois, Brigid Walker, Daichi Ikarashi and Marianna Tsembenhoi. Photo Tristram Kenton

The matinee performance included the trio from Paquita danced by 1st year Viola Pantuso, and 2nd years Sofia Linares Vazquez and James Large. A beautifully matched trio, they worked musically to the bright tempo, making light of the technical difficulties. Each making a distinct impression in their very different solos, before they all came together in the lively coda.

The Upper School closed the evening with a longer excerpt from the work. It’s a challenging work but the dancers took it in their stride, bringing Spanish hauteur to crisp technique. Xinyue Zhao and Brayden Gallucci took the leads. She is a dancer of beautiful proportions with gracious carriage of her head and upper back that perfectly suits the ballet. Her solo was a dream, calm balances and beautiful finish to each difficult move. Gallucci made an admirable partner and danced his solo with an elegance that brought artistry to the most difficult steps.

The trio was again a highlight with Ginevra Zambon in the first solo accurately timing the complex moves and contrasting with flowing arms while Lydia Baker, in the second solo devoured the stage with high flying jetés and a warm presence. Daichi Ikarashi, whose sparkling personality makes him unmissable, proved his ability to hover in the air on cabrioles, nail every tour and beat a clean entrechat six in a five-star performance. Duets, quartets and well drilled ensemble showed the quality across the board in a most enjoyable performance.

This same professionalism was the hallmark of the other major classical work, Frederick Ashton’s La Valse. Danced by the Upper School, it has a large cast and is an ensemble piece needing a high level of technique throughout. It also needs the sense of drama inherent in Ravel’s score, the mystery makes this such an interesting piece. The dancers gave it all of this and dressed in André Levasseur glamorous costumes it was a treat and set the standard of professionalism we have come to expect from our top ballet school.

Maggie Foyer
22 July 2019

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