The Royal Ballet School
Linbury Studio Theatre, The Royal Opera House, London; June 29, 2011
Apart from Liam Scarlett’s “Danse Bohémienne” danced by students from the Lower School, the performance of The Royal Ballet School’s season at the Linbury was given over to older Upper School students. And what an enjoyable feast they produced in a challenging programme that was, rather appropriately, largely a celebration of English choreography.
One of the highlights of the first half was David Bintley’s “En Bateau”, originally made for the School back in 1988. Although set to Debussy’s “Petite Suite” and originally performed in front of a projection of Seurat’s “Une Baignade, Asnières” with its view of the Seine, boats and bathers (sadly not used here), in terms of steps and mood, the ballet is about as English as you can get. Ashton’s influence courses through it. Like many of his works it looks back to an idealised world. The opening threesome is delightfully innocent. Lily Howes in her sailor dress, escorted by Giorgio Garrett and Barny Sharatt, skipped happily round the stage as if playing by the river without a care in the world, before a second trio took us on the river with some clever use of canoe paddles. Most inventive, though, is the third movement, a pas de deux very cleanly danced by Naomi Seaton and Barnaby Rook Bishop that included swimming references galore.
As enjoyable as “En Bateau” was, it was the fireworks that followed that had everyone talking. Mexican Esteban Hernandez crackled and fizzed his way through the well-known pas de deux from “Le Corsaire” in a way that belied his age. His leaps were high yet wonderfully controlled; every one softly and solidly landed. His turns were fast and smooth with never a hint of a wobble, and then were the rock solid straight arm lifts. His partner, Yaoqian Shang, was not far behind, her fouettés being particularly impressive. To say these two looked promising would be a huge understatement; and they are still only in their first year.
Equally challenging, but in an altogether different way is Ashton’s austere “Monotones II”. It should look quite effortless, the dancers appearing weightless as if walking on the moon. That calls for a great deal of strength as well as nimbleness. Sadly there were a few too many wobbles for the effect to be maintained over the whole piece.
Kenneth MacMillan was represented by excerpts from his “Four Seasons”. Not only is it a pleasing, very classical ballet, but its large cast makes it perfect for such an occasion. It’s full of invention with some quite complex patterning. What stays in the memory is a particularly vicious section for the girls that requires them to bourrée on pointe for what seems like forever. That they all did so with such poise speaks volumes.
The second half honours, though, were taken by John Neumeier’s hauntingly beautiful “Spring and Fall”. Although non-narrative, it’s a ballet that has tension running through it, much of it drawn from Dvorak’s “Serenade in E Major”. The dancers extracted every ounce of drama possible, especially the impressive Claudia Dean who managed to danced with, yet simultaneously remain aloof from, her three male partners.
The evening was extra special for two students whose prize-winning works were danced alongside the more famous offerings. It was easy to see why second year Lachlan Monaghan’s “Memory of Touch” picked up the 2011 Ursula Moreton Choreographic Award. A dance for three couples it oozed elegance and a sadness that reflected perfectly Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “The Need to Follow”. First year student Marcelino Sambé is also clearly a dance-maker of promise, even if his “M’ câ cré sabi” was perhaps a little too complex. Several moves failed to flow as it seemed they should, and most of the extreme leg extensions looked somewhat out of place.
Elsewhere, Karla Doorbar particularly impressed with her line and use of the upper back in the pas de quatre from Act I of Ashton’s “Swan Lake”. And while Mariko Sasaki may only have been in the corps in a version of the “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker” by Peter Wright, she drew the eyes constantly with her neat footwork, pleasing line and a face that left no one in any doubt that she, like us, was enjoying the evening immensely. The evening concluded with John Cranko’s jewel of a ballet, “Opus 1”, set to music by Webern and depicting the creation of human life.
The high regard in which the School’s training is held around the world is reflected in the range of destinations many of the dancers on show will soon be heading for. Joining The Royal Ballet are Claudia Dean, Francesca Hayward and Tomas Mock; while off to Birmingham are Karla Doorbar, Emily Smith and Brandon Lawrence. Also joining UK companies are Sean Bates (Northern Ballet) and Sophie Allnatt (Scottish Ballet).
Heading for the continent are Grete Borud Nybakken and Douwe Dekkers (both to Norwegian Ballet), Calum Lowden (Royal Swedish Ballet), Grieg Matthew (Vienna State Opera Ballet), Gina Scott (Dresden Ballet), Antonia McAuley (Bavarian State Ballet 2), Zoe Roberts (Bavarian State Ballet), Michael Burton and Thomas Kendall (both to Zurich Ballet), Millis Faust (Finnish National Ballet), Kenta Yamamoto (Slovakian National Theatre Ballet), Hannah Grennell (Dutch National Ballet), Austin Lui (Ballet de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux), Samuel Price (Slovak National Ballet), Bruno Micchiardi (Estonian National Ballet) and Roseanna Leney (Polish National Ballet).
And going even further afield are Fabio Lo Guidice (Joffrey Ballet), Jamie Kopit (American Ballet Theatre), Ilena Riveron (Boston Ballet 2), Stafano Maggiolo (Tulsa Ballet) and Ciro Tarnayo (National Ballet of Uruguay). That’s an impressive list by anyone’s standards.