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Ballet Central - 'Mixed Bill'

by David Mead

March 26, 2011 -- The Theatre, Chipping Norton, UK

It would be fair to say that Chipping Norton, a small market town in the North Oxfordshire
Cotswolds, is not exactly a regular stop on dance company tours, except that is for Ballet Central,
the touring company of the Central School of Ballet, which has a long association with Northern
Ballet.

This year’s company is made up of 36 final year students from eight countries, with the repertory an
eclectic mix of new works and revivals by acclaimed choreographers including Christopher Bruce,
Darshan Singh Buller and Christopher Hampson. The performance was a delight with the varied
programme of mostly short works allowing the dancers to demonstrate clearly their versatility.
The standard was generally very good, the few wobbles that did occur probably caused more by
concerns posed by Chipping Norton’s postage stamp of a stage than any technical issues.

The problems with the stage were immediately apparent in the opening pas de six from Helgi
Tomasson’s “The Sleeping Beauty”. The dancers were not quite fighting for space, but it did look
a bit of a squeeze at times and there was a distinct sense of steps being reined in somewhat. Despite
that there was some fine footwork from the girls in particular, with Maria Grozova standing out.
She looked most assured, with great clarity of movement, a fine line, and a cheery smile to go with
it. Grozova also took the honours, along with partner William Simmons, in the later Act I pas de
trois from “Swan Lake”, the other classic excerpt danced.

There was more ballet in the Blue Ball pas de deux from the late Christopher Gable’s “Cinderella”,
danced to composer Philip Feeney live playing of a piano reduction of his score. This is the scene
where the Prince and Cinderella finally get to meet. Despite one obvious slip, and even without
the rest of the story or a set to put things in context, Elizabeth Savage and Alexander Nuttall gave
a real sense of two people falling in love in what is a very tender, romantic pas de deux. Thanks
to its large set and high touring costs it’s a great shame the full ballet seems to has been lost from
Northern Ballet’s repertory.

Of more recent vintage is Christopher Hampson’s neoclassical “Capriol Suite”, originally made
for Ballet Central in 2008. The choreography reflects perfectly the order in Peter Warlock’s
composition of the same title, the various dances giving all six performers plenty of scope to show
what they can do. Of most interest is a desperately moving pas de deux in which Toni-Michelle
Dent and William Simmons (again) were totally engaged in the dance and endowed it with great
meaning. Elsewhere a duet for two boys has any number of strong images and there is a zippy pas
de trois. It is just a shame that the final ensemble section is a little disappointing when compared to
everything that goes before.

Completing the ballet pieces were a couple of excerpts from Mexican choreographer Nellie
Happee’s “Simple Symphony.” A fun and perky pas de trois was followed by a rather more
meaningful Sarabande that was full of a sense of longing and saw the dancers in quite pensive
mood.

Highlight of the contemporary works was a stunning new Christopher Bruce creation, “Für Alina”,
a very mature work that would sit equally comfortably on a much more experienced company. In
many ways it is typical Bruce. Although the time and place is left for the audience to decide, it is
full of recurring images and oozes meaning. There are moments of happiness, referenced by what
appear to be steps from childhood games or perhaps simple folk dance, but elsewhere it is full of
introspection and a certain sadness. There are moments of what seems to be anguish, and certainly
moments when the dancers support each other, both physically and emotionally. It is all very
reminiscent of the feelings experienced by someone who had left home, which is rather appropriate
given that Arvo Part dedicated the music to a family friend’s eighteen year-old daughter who had
done just that and gone to study in London. It was outstandingly well danced with Lottie Murphy
having a particular quality.

The other contemporary works on the programme were rather less satisfying. “Groove of the
Metropolitan”, made by Kenrick Sandy, a much sought after commercial choreographer who
has worked on numerous high profile stage productions as well as choreographing ads and for
awards shows, looks at the need of business people to escape the pressures of city life. It was well
performed, although the hip hop meets ballet combination was not entirely successful.

“Groove” was rather more pleasing that Darshan Singh Buller’s hugely disappointing “Doubting
Thomas” though. This was certainly full of references to Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint
Thomas” on which it is based, but it is all rather obvious with lots of stamping, finger pointing,
rolling on and slapping the floor, and not much else.

Rather happier, to put it mildly, was Philip Aiden’s “Swing Time”, an energetic and athletic piece
based on swing dance and performed to a couple of cracking Duke Ellington pieces including, of
course, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”. Bright and breezy with the girls is
particularly colourful dresses it certainly swung and was a real crowd pleaser.

Ballet Central continues on tour until July 16. See http://www.balletcentral.co.uk for all the dates.
Note that the repertory varies from venue to venue.


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