The Theatre, Chipping Norton; March 26, 2011
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. It’s a shame the full ballet seems to have 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Of more recent vintage is Christopher Hampson’s neoclassical “Capriol Suite”, originally made for Ballet Central in 2008.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. Large venue dates include The Lowry in Salford on May 23, and the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House on June 5. See http://www.balletcentral.co.uk for all the dates. Note that the repertory varies from venue to venue.
A version of this review, with photographs, will appear subsequently in the magazine, and I'll be taking another look at the company when they visit the Linbury in early June.