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Ballet Central
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Author:  David [ Thu Mar 31, 2011 1:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Ballet Central

Ballet Central
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Of more recent vintage is Christopher Hampson’s neoclassical “Capriol Suite”, originally made for Ballet Central in 2008.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 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.

Author:  David [ Thu Jun 09, 2011 5:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Central

Ballet Central
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; June 5, 2011

David Mead

As impressive as they were earlier in their tour at Chipping Norton, it was no surprise that the Ballet Central dancers looked much more comfortable on the larger Linbury stage.

In Christopher Hampson’s “Capriol Suite”, set to Peter Warlock’s score of the same name, the young dancers showed plenty of courtliness and elegance without ever largely coming to grips with the emotion in the music. The exception was Zoe Arshamian and Dominic Harrison, who were most impressive in the main pas de deux.

Like most pas de deux from ballets where the dance is truly integral to the story, unlike in the classics where it really is there largely to show off technique, the Blue Ball pas de deux from Christopher Gable’s “Cinderella” does not translate entirely satisfactorily when performed on its own. That’s a great shame because it is one of two exceptional duets from what is a wonderful ballet. Matters were not helped by Philip Feeney’s piano reduction of the score, which rather loses much of the tenderness inherent in the orchestral version. Despite that, and some ill-fitting costumes, Maria Grozova, so impressive a month earlier, once again looked a name to note for the future. I couldn’t stop my memory flying back to the whole work, or a lump from appearing in my throat.

Several of the works had larger casts than in Chipping Norton. Although that improved both Kenrick Sandy’s “Groove of the Metropolitan”, and especially Darshan Singh Buller’s “Doubting Thomas”, these remained the weakest parts of the show. “Groove” still lacked much of the crisp sharpness one felt should be there, while “Doubting Thomas” was still searching for a purpose. Christopher Bruce’s “Für Alina” also included more dancers. Despite another impressive performance, Arshamian in particular showing she is a very good contemporary dancer too, this did not have as much impact on the larger stage. In the previous small space one’s attention was really focused on the internal feelings and the hidden narrative of the nameless characters. Here it was all somehow dissipated.

The only new work from the Oxfordshire programme was Christopher Marney’s “Scenes from a Wedding.” In style it has similarities to a number of Matthew Bourne’s works, hardly surprising given that Marney has danced principal roles in many of his productions, and is presently rehearsal director for his “Cinderella.” The work is full of rather obvious unsubtle acting and humour and would benefit hugely from some changes of tone and a little more subtlety in places. The most impressive aspect of the piece is Philip Feeney’s wonderful score that includes many natural sounds such as the sea and birds. Part recorded but with the piano sections played live by Feeney himself it is full of the wonderful melodies for which he so well known. Despite my reservations, the audience loved it. And the cast certainly gave it their all, led by Arshamian as the Uncertain Bride, James Waddell as The Groom and Nicole Craddock as the Bride.

Other items danced were the pas de six from Helgi Tomasson’s “The Sleeping Beauty”, in which Grozova and Harrison again stood out; Philip Aiden’s jolly and upbeat “Swing Time” in which the dancers really let their hair down; and the pas de trois from Nellie Happee’s “Simple Symphony” in which the petite Kozue Mikami shone. Showing outstandingly crisp footwork, her opening solo was the classical highlight of the evening.

Author:  David [ Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Central

Ballet Central
Chipping Norton Theatre; March 24, 2012

David Mead

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.
Sumire Takimoto in Celebration.jpg
Sumire Takimoto in Celebration.jpg [ 30.76 KiB | Viewed 5237 times ]

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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