Royal Ballet School
Raymonda Act III, Journeys, Concordance, The Dying Swan, Jubilation, A Sweet Spell of Oblivion, Classical Symphony, Grand Défilé
London, Royal Opera House
12 July 2014
Question… What’s the biggest audience noise you will ever hear in ballet? Answer… The roar of the audience at the end of the Royal Ballet School show at the Opera House. We’ve all just been wound up to breaking point by the breezy and clever antics as the Grand Défilé assembles and the place just erupts as parents, teachers and fans all revel in a job well done. I certainly feel nothing but pride and exuberation as 8 years of students, some of the best students in the country and world, show us what they can do. Forget about ballet and dance, the planet feels a damn fine place to live at times like this.
This year’s roar seemed particularly appropriate because choreographically it was an interesting show – much stronger and meatier than last year’s. It started from the top with the Upper School students in Nureyev’s Raymonda Act III – a fine classical test with lots of individual variations to shine in. A big piece to put on, to sparkle the dancers need to be sharply together and in the pas de trois (first year girls) and the pas de quatre (2nd and 3 year boys) they were pretty on the button and would have given the Royal Ballet (RB) soloists a good run for their money. The leads were second year Chisato Katsura as Raymonda and Reece Clarke (who joined the Royal Ballet earlier in the season) as Jean de Brienne. Clarke is a tall, impressive, boy – big marks for going for big jumps, if more refinement will come with time. You can see why RB nabbed him. Katsura, from Osaka, has been much mentioned and is astonishingly well-finished already with terrific definition to her movement and strong musicality. Seemingly perfectly proportioned, with a dark allure, she has it all, and a lot of companies will be interested. The last time somebody struck me this strongly was 10 years ago when Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt (now Ommi Pipit-Suksun) was taken straight into San Francisco Ballet at soloist level.
White Lodge students also got in on some national / character dancing in Tania Fairbairn’s Journeys. Great to see the progression over the years from ‘simple’ skipping, hops and heel clicks blossoming into pukka sweeping dance phrases as they get older. The final year of White Lodge also got Jubilation, by Antonio Castilla and Diane van Schoor, reprised from 2 years ago. Its “A celebration of youth..” but I’d say more a celebration of classical youth. It’s good the final year have a piece to sparkle in because not all of them automatically get places to continue their training in the Upper School. It’s a reminder of the competition pressures around ballet that start from the earliest of days. Huge smiles, huge personal achievements, but that is not always enough to get through.
Another Upper School boy snapped up by the Royal Ballet is Calvin Richardson and his Dying Swan choreography, for himself, was a surprise addition to the afternoon. It takes balls to take on The Dying Swan music and not sink and we got a mixture of slight robotic twitches and some much more smooth, expansive, movement. Hopefully we will see him do more as part of the next RB Draft Works.
Another modern take on movement came from old boy David Dawson, now internationally known, with an Upper School pas de deux (A Sweet Spell of Oblivion). To Bach, it takes itself very seriously and Giulia Frosi and Edivaldo Souza Da Silva invested a lot in its dreamy flowing movement. Beautiful but rather earnest at the same time.
Also for the Upper School, but for all 3 years, was Concordance, unusually a choreographic three-hander using Alumni Kristen McNally (year 1 students), Alexander Whitley (yr 2) and Martin Joyce (yr 3). They shared a beat driven, echo-y, electronic score by Marcas Lancaster and the movement was very un-classical, you’d say. McNally made a cool sculptural affair with little quirky human flourishes – it was fresh and original. It’s fascinating to see her producing flowing movement rather than surreal drama as we have often seen in the Linbury. More. Alexander Whitley fuses contemporary and ballet into a sophisticated mix and his star is ascending. A solid job that made his 4 dancers look good. Martin Joyce seemed to produce the most derivative work with tight trunks and snappy angular movements much on display. The look is starting to feel a little dated now but the final year sold it well.
Of all the new pieces the best work of the matinee came from another old boy of the school – Liam Scarlett. His Classical Symphony to Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1 (complete with a section that went on to be better known in Romeo and Juliet), was the last piece before the défilé and really cantered along. It’s not just that it’s a strong bit of neo-classical ballet, deftly handling its cast of nearly 40 in endless and rapid permutations, but Scarlett introduces some fun amongst the massed ranks, as when, from nowhere in the formation, a girl just shoots up in the air and as quickly is gone. The playful and quirky additions are well judged, never in your face, but really do elevate an already good set of steps. I hope Classical Symphony will have a life well beyond the school. Another reason to like the Scarlett was the principal couple of Leticia Dias Dominguez and Samuel Zaldivar – he final year and going to Boston Ballet and she, like Katsura, in year 2. They had a winning rapport together – the best in the show – and actually looked like they were having fun too. 1 plus 1 made 3 for them.
Overall this year there was more oomph and pace about the show and that seemed to be reflected in the Grand Défilé as well with some big classical show-off moves mixed in. We would have roared anyway, but we all rose to the occasion and did a bit extra too!