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Ballet Central

by David Mead

March 24, 2012-- Chipping Norton Theatre, Chipping Norton, UK

Can there be a prettier town to go to watch ballet than Chipping Norton in the heart of the English Cotswolds? The town’s small theatre has a reputation that far outstrips its size and has become a regular venue on Ballet Central’s tours. Not only was this year’s Chippy (as the town is affectionately known) programme nicely varied, I reckon the dancers, all final year students from London’s Central School of Ballet gaining invaluable performance experience, looked the best for a several years.

Proceedings opened with the welcome return of Ballet Central founder Christopher Gable’s bright and uplifting neo-classical “Celebration”, first seen in 1995. Music Director Philip Feeney’s score is as uplifting as the dance, the tone set almost immediately by the sound of a triumphant bell immediately following the first notes from the piano. Incidentally, how nice it is to see a group such as Ballet Central dancing to live music. Several of the pieces performed, including this, had Feeney live on piano alongside recordings of the other instruments. “Celebration” is essentially about partnering, and while there may be no story as such, there was often clearly a dialogue going on. This was certainly true in a boisterous male duet, but especially so whenever Yuumi Ueno and Andrew McNichol came together. In a later pas de deux in particular their faces and bodies screamed meaning. These two were to shine the whole afternoon.

Ueno and McNichol again stole the show in Sherrill Wexler’s “Encuentros”, a Spanish-inspired number about relationships for three couples. They did not just dance together. Their faces were so alive. The way McNichol in particular looked at his partner, never, it seemed, taking his eyes off her, suggested a real emotional connection between them. A special mention too for Richard Geller’s quite stunning yellow and black costumes; the ladies’ gowns, with their lacy tops and flowing bottoms would grace any ball.

Rambert Dance Company ex-dancer and now Rehearsal Director Michaela Polley can usually be relied on to come up with something impressive, and her new “Circle of Five” is no exception. The choreography is sleek, yet athletic, sparky and edgy. It matches Feeney’s percussive, often aggressive score all the way. Polley really pushes her dancers with some on-the-edge balances and extensions, but the whole cast (Ariadna Llussa Sanz, Yuumi Ueno, Andrew McNichol, Jacob Wye and Tetsuo Yamamoto) threw themselves into it fully. The energy was immense. “Circle of Five” is a fabulous piece that I would sit through again and again quite happily.

The dancers are from the Central School of Ballet, of course, and out and out classicism came in the form of the Pas de Trois from “Swan Lake”. Shinnosuke Mitsutomo showed some impressive leaps, despite clearly having to rein himself in so that he stayed on the small stage, and Irène Savary showed a nice line, with particularly soft and expressive arms. David Fielding’s “Six Chamber Dances” is an altogether more reflective ballet playing with three couples and some edgy partnering that hints at rivalry and friction. It’s a beautifully constructed piece that only emphasises what a loss to ballet it was when he died of cancer in 2008, aged just 35. Even more contemporary in nature, although still remaining mostly quite flowing, Sara Matthews’ “And Then Their Hopes Soared” was neatly danced without ever really taking off.

Rounding off the programme was Matthew Hart’s witty “Whodunnit?” In this ballet version of the well-known board game the characters are guests of the suave and unsuspecting Mr. Black (Andrew Monaghan). Unsuspecting, because it seems all his guests have a reason for doing away with their host.

Each guest arrives wreathed in smiles, yet armed with a cleverly concealed weapon. The characterisations are a delight, each taking inspiration from the names. Tatiana Tsvetkova as Miss Scarlet was the epitome of a scatty dumb blonde, Ben Owen’s Professor Plum was eccentric if not quite mad, Tetsuo Yamamoto’s pith helmeted Colonel Mustard was straight off the Coleman’s jar, and as Miss Peacock, Irène Savary strutted around most appropriately, all airs and graces. Best of all (again!) though was Andrew McNichol’s bible hugging, cross always in hand, Reverend Green; on the surface the perfect vicar. But he made it very clear that never far away was another person entirely, and when he turned that cross upside down to become a dagger, those sweet eyes and innocent smile changed to ones of darkness and evil intent.

Hart presents a series of scenes showing each as the murderer, before the guilty one is finally revealed. Silent movie-style storyboards are used to tell us which scenario we were seeing (“Professor Plum in the Billiard Room with the lead pipe” etc). The whole audience enjoyed the fun that ensued although I’m not sure the kids got all the jokes. The adults certainly did. But this is not Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and they didn’t all have a hand in the dirty deed. So whodunnit? Sorry, all I’m saying is that there is a surprise twist. You will have to go and see!

Ballet Central’s extensive UK tour continues to Tonbridge, Cambridge, Canterbury, Salford, Grantham, Leeds, Yeovil, Chelmsford, Bracknell, Newbury, Corby, St. Andrews, Andover, Hexham, Frome, Bridport, London (Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House), Crawley, and London (Bloomsbury Theatre); plus one overseas date in Amsterdam. Repertory varies. See for dates.

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