English National Ballet School
Bloomsbury Theatre, London; July 8, 2011
Highlight of this year’s English National Ballet School performances was undoubtedly Kenneth MacMillan’s wistful ballet “Solitaire”. Subtitled “A kind of game for one”, it features an ever-present girl who meets and plays with friends, who can be taken as real or imaginary, before they vanish, always without saying goodbye.
The psychological undertones usually associated with the ballet, which admittedly are difficult to convey, were largely missing. Instead, and helped along enormously by Desmond Heeley’s original designs, the dancers imbued it with greater brightness and youthful charm that is usually the case. Although always left alone, Nicha Rodboon as the Solitaire Girl never seemed lonely. Matching her flower-decked summer hat, she brought a nice sense of lightness to the role, and at the end of each section was always left smiling, with happy memories of what had passed. The supporting also cast danced with an assurance. Miki Mizutani’s Polka Girl was especially perky and there was some impressive work from the boys, especially Vitor Duarte de Menezes in the pas de deux.
The performance opened with “Simple Symphony”, a new ballet by English National Ballet soloist Jenna Lee to Benjamin Britten’s youthful score. It is very much a group piece with the emphasis on dancing together. Lee made intelligent use of the music, crafted some pleasant patterns, and achieved the sometimes difficult balance of making the first year students look good while challenging them. My only wish was that a pas de deux that started so beautifully but ended rather abruptly could have been extended.
The School’s affiliation with Rambert Dance Company was recognised by “Unfold”, a new piece by Rambert Rehearsal Director Mikaela Polley, set to a score by John Metcalfe and danced by third year students. Much of the dance had a sense of suspension and use of weight that seemed particularly to suit the boys.
Other classical ballet styles were on show in excerpts from Act III of “Raymonda” and Act III of “Napoli”. Unsurprisingly, the dancers seemed rather more at home with the Petipa. Particularly impressive was Min Yi Kwok, who managed to extract every ounce of expression from the music.
The selections from “Napoli” were staged by Dianna Bjorn from The Royal Danish Ballet. Although she held masterclasses in preparation for the performances, the students’ lack of familiarity with the style showed. There was particularly little evidence of ballon, most jumps lacking in both height and lightness. The Tarantella, where the focus is rather more on speedy footwork played rather more to their abilities though, and was well danced with a genuine sense of the pleasure of dancing; a sense that transmitted itself to the audience who revelled in it too.
All the students looked confident dancing in front of a paying audience, and from next year the School’s final year cohort will get even more chance to gain valuable performance experience with the launch of ENB II. In what appears to be an extension of the “Angelina Ballerina” programme, and working in partnership with English National Ballet, the plan is that the new company will take specially created adaptations of full-length classical works to family audiences across the country. The new company will open with “My First Sleeping Beauty” at London’s Peacock Theatre in April 2012, followed by an eight week national tour. The performances will be complimented by classes for children aged 2½ years upwards in what is described as a “creative, imaginative and fun approach to learning ballet.” Funny, I thought good teachers made all classes like that.