Diverse Diversions I
Elmhurst School for Dance
Elmhurst School Theatre, Birmingham; July 9, 2011
The undoubted highlight of the annual performances at Elmhurst School for Dance, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s associate school, the undoubted highlight were some sparkling performances of John Cranko’s Gilbert and Sullivan inspired “Pineapple Poll”. I freely admit that this rather silly story about flower-seller Poll, her lover Jasper, sailors, their wives and girlfriends, who along with Poll all hanker after the handsome Captain Belaye, and some odd goings-on about H.M.S. Hot Cross Bun, has never been one of my favourite ballets, but the final year students brought a freshness and vitality to the work that is rarely seen. They truly brought it alive.
The whole cast were excellent. Jenna Carroll was sunny in the title role, showing a nice sense of fun along with some neat footwork. Star of the show though was Orazio Di Bella, who was nicely superior and full of himself as Captain Belaye. You could understand why. He was quite a heartthrob, and it was easy to see why all the girls started swooning the minute he appeared. His dancing was pretty good too, with some excellent, quick footwork and impressive beats. And then there was the delightfully daffy pairing of Sophie Rance as Mrs Dimple (for once a teenager playing an older person actually worked rather well) and Lauren McCarron as her daughter Blanche.
The first half of the show featured dancers from right across the School. Most of the pieces were choreographed by the School’s teachers, although the best choreography by far came from David Bintley. His “Four Scottish Dances” from “Flowers in the Forest” played nicely to the students’ talents and sense of fun. With everyone in kilted splendour, Olivia Holland and Lawrence Massie showed a nice sense of feeling for each other in the pas de deux, while Benjamin Roones and Orazio Di Bella were near perfect as the drunkards trying to pick up Scottish lassies Jenna Carroll and Abigail Prudames.
One of the features of the past two or three years at Elmhurst is how much the standard of dancing, and especially partnering, has improved amongst the boys. They look so much stronger these days, which in turn helps the technique. And that, plus opportunities for all the older dancers to dance occasionally with BRB must help their confidence too. It’s just a shame that the size of the School’s theatre and its licence conditions mean these shows cannot be opened up to a wider audience. And amazingly Birmingham does not have a suitable mid-scale theatre that could be used instead.
The only contemporary influenced work on show was Dennie Wilson’s “Mange-esque” danced by the year 11 students (16 year olds). The most interesting section featured arachnid-like movements that emphasised the limbs and the articulation in the elbows and knees, the spidery feeling being added to by the combination of red pointe shoes with largely black leotards and tights.
Elsewhere, the first years got to dance in Denise Lewin’s “Tanie Dzieciecy”, while Errol Pickford’s “Libertango” drew on boys from across the upper years, although the choreography and the dancing rather rounded out all the sharp edginess inherent in Piazolla’s wonderful music. Another all male piece was Lee Robinson’s “The Sailors”, this time danced by the boys in years 8 and 9. As in everything else he was in, Joseph Ngwana-Aumeer was most impressive, his face lighting up the stage. And boy can he jump and turn!
Aspirations was a pleasant and very feminine piece for the year 6.2 and 6.3 girls, while “Cirque de la Danse” was a sort of combination work to Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.2 in which seven choreographers had a hand, including BRB dancers Kit Holder and Dusty Button. The best section by far was that to the “Danse Macabre”, in which Ririka Oishi shone. Finally a special mention for “Crafted”, a most appropriate title for what was indeed a well crafted piece by year 6.1 student Shuan Mendum that made intelligent use of the music and included some nice patterning. You wouldn’t have realised it was a student piece unless told.
Elmhurst artistic director Desmond Kelly will be leaving the School at the end of the 2011-12 academic year, although he will continue to act as an artistic adviser. Under his stewardship standards have improved immensely. Best of all is the focus on the English style; which is just as it should be.