2014 Tour: Corn pas de deux from Coppelia, Rendezvous, Continuum, Five Lullabies, Toots Goes to Charleston, Meraki, Futility, Carousel Dances
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
11 May 2014
Of all the school shows I most appreciate the one by Central School of Ballet. Their show, under the name Ballet Central, invariably has the widest range of dance, from ballet to contemporary to musical theatre and more. And importantly they tour it, this year to 17 theatres, stretching from Salford to Frome. Real punters are out to see a night of professional dance and that’s what they deliver with huge enthusiasm. Allowances don’t need to be made and the students really come out of their final year knowing what the dance life is about and ready to contribute to the professional companies they join. It seems a win-win for everybody – which is why the Ballet Central tour has been going 29 years now.
I came away from this years show generally as happy as ever, if sadly there was no big ‘surprise’ choreographer among the 8 works we saw. Christopher Bruce, Will Tuckett, David Bintley, Matthew Hart, Peter Wright, Matthew Bourne, Christopher Hampson and Russell Maliphant have all been used in the past, along with an occasional Ashton excerpt or similar. Last year Darshan Singh Bhuller gave them the wonderful Mapping #3 – gorgeously inventive with some clever and fun video projections. This year was also rather odd with no Philip Feeney playing live. This is broadly equivalent to hell freezing over. Philip is their Musical Director and Composer in Residence who has created many scores for ballet companies and can also do wonderful pastiches when needed. If a choreographer wants some Philip Glass minimalism morphing into Thom Willems by way of a Mozart Minuet for a 15-minute new work, then Feeney is your man. Sad not to see him there in person if good to report that three pieces used his music and that he was actually away with Milwaukee Ballet for the premiere of Michael Pink’s Mirror Mirror (a take on Snow White) and which Feeney had composed.
There are two others, like Feeney, who I always associate with doing good things each year: Sara Matthews and Carole Gable. Matthews used to head the contemporary side and is now Director of the School, and yet still finds time to create works – her first creations go back to her time dancing with Rambert. This year was unusual: she usually provides an uplifting piece that puts nearly all the company on stage together and is a great celebration for them all, but this year we got two solos, not new works but appropriately brought back in this World War 1 centenary year, Rendezvous and Futility were reflections on war and the nation with poetry recited by Sir Derek Jacobi (a Patron of Ballet Central). Duncan Anderson gave the man’s account (Rendezvous) and later in the night Alexandra Davis, the woman’s (Futility). It’s hard to create a serious atmosphere in such short pieces but they did well. I think, though, that it’s music that gives more instant mood than the spoken voice – even one as well spoken as Jacobi’s. I wish they had been run together as well.
Carole Gable always puts on a couple of ballet pieces, one usually a choice excerpt from Christopher Gable’s work, often from when he directed Northern Ballet, and the other a full-on bit of 19th century classicism. If the UK was ever to have a Ballet Czar I think it should be Carol: ex Royal Ballet, she is terrific fun, but has old-school attention to detail and nothing, but nothing, gets past her. The classical piece this year was the Corn pas de deux from Coppelia complete with 6 friends. I liked Saki Katoka in the lead, a very expressive and assured Japanese student. But they were all drilled well – standards never slip. This year’s Christopher Gable work was Five Lullabies, created especially for the school in 1997 and charting the growing up of children through to adulthood. It’s a very sweet and naturalistic piece – Gable as dancer and choreographer could always connect with the real side of us. But with the passing of years it needs to be seen through the lens of times past. These are children as the best were and as you watch it you wonder what changes he would make if around to reflect on growing up now.
Somebody else, this time relatively new to Ballet Central, who is visibly making a difference is Richard Gellar, their Resident Costume Designer. I’ve always thought of Central looking pretty well turned out, sometimes borrowing costumes if needed, but Gellar now seems to design all they wear and makes a very professional job of it too. It’s a good team – great designs and well realised by the costume department.
Recently Central School have started an MA in Choreography which a number of rising stars have enrolled on. Rambert’s Dane Hurst has just graduated, and the next wave involved are Christopher Marney, Andrew McNicol and Kit Holder. McNicol contributed Continuum to the show, a modern piece of ballet for 10, taking its inspiration from how we perceive time. It’s fast paced and sold well with a Feeney violin score, if the program notes for it are a bit of a handful to digest. Another piece for ten with a Philip Feeney score was Daniel de Andrade’s Meraki, complete with digestible programme note. Resident Ballet Master with Northern Ballet, Andrade has created this crowd-pleaser with the dancers, the boys with attention-grabbing bare chests and ballet tights. But girls or boys they all look grown up and ready to conquer the world with pace and verve.
The headline piece of the evening was Christopher Marney’s Carousel Dances and I think it’s the best piece of his I’ve seen to date. An old boy of the School, Marney has made his name with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and is now doing more dance making. To me his choreography often seems big on theatre if slightly less big on movement. But with Carousel, the dance is very central and he does some nicely inventive things to really suggest an old fashioned fairground Carousel. Taking on Rodgers and Hammerstein is a big deal choreographically (it was one of the last things Kenneth MacMillan had a crack at) and also for the dancers, but they really seemed to prosper and the costumes added to the air of confidence and a job done well.
But my favourite piece of this tour was not the headline one but a piece from a choreographer I’ve never really heard of before: Leanne King who is the Contemporary dance Tutor at Central. Toots Goes to Charleston is a gloriously daft and loving evocation of the 20’s and one of its most famous dances. Gellar’s costumes sparkle, the young dancers sparkle and we sparkle and toe tap in return. Every year Ballet Central surprise me somehow and this year was no different.
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