Royal Ballet School
Allegro de Jeunesse, SpringTime, Fete de Glinka, Soirees musicales, Les Patineurs, Vertigo Maze, Mistake Waltz, Rhapsody pas de deux, Concerto grosso, Grand Defile
London, Royal Opera House
9 July 2016, matinee
One of the highlights of the year is seeing some schools’ performances – they are so life-affirming and one is always rather amazed by the talent coming through. The Royal Ballet School in particular includes something very special in their show – the closing Grand Defile, which always brings a lump to the throat and a feeling of pride. Pride that humanity has developed and can teach such exquisite movement, and pride that a new generation of students, from near and far, want to take it forward with such boundless enthusiasm.
This year’s show was particularly interesting in two respects – it featured a lot of top-notch (British) choreography, more than I can remember for a long time, and also it seemed a show that emphasised the strength in depth across the school and the final graduating year in particular. Normally one picks out a few students who shine particularly, but this year I was more minded of the general standard – which was good. That said, two dancers particularly jumped out. The first was Kaho Yanagisawa who featured in two leading roles and clearly has confidence and technique above her years. Yanagisawa is not a flashy dancer, but soft and lyrical, if currently without the full magnetic allure I hope she will develop at Royal Swedish Ballet – her first contract out of school. The second dancer I’d mention has bags of allure: Harrison Lee who danced the Blue Boy in Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs – lots of technique and assurance, if just a little rushed and somewhat slurred at times. But then one noticed he is actually 2 years away from graduating and you do a silent ‘Wow’ and wonder where he will be at the next 2 school shows.
It was nice to see Ashton’s Les Patineurs put on in full with the gorgeous William Chappell sets and costumes and although I’ve mentioned Lee specifically, it was a strong group effort. We also had Ashton’s Rhapsody pas de deux with Yanagisawa partnered by the personable Francisco Serrano – he, along with 6 others, is joining the Royal Ballet Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. So not a member of the company as such but a step nearer and perhaps more importantly gaining valuable experience and thus becoming more interesting to many companies. Kenneth MacMillan’s Soirees musicales also came back to please us – again with Yanagisawa in the lead. Made for the school 28 years ago, it’s actually a very grown-up piece of choreography and a stern test for students from all 3 Upper School years.
David Bintley’s SpringTime was also a stern test – if it wore its difficulty lightly. Newly commissioned and featuring Colin Towns’ jazzy take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Spring), with birdsong additions(!). For 13 final-year students this was playful, expansive and modern – in part danced in ballet slippers. I hope Birmingham Royal Ballet (where Bintley is director) dance this on their smaller mid-scale tours.
Liam Scarlett also had a piece in – his Allegro de Jeunesse, to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, opened the show with White Lodge students. Despite their years this was quite grown up in its expectations of them and amazing that it was made 11 years ago when Scarlett was still at the Royal Ballet School himself. A reminder of why expectations around Scarlett are so high and here he commandingly layers and fills the stage with action. Although the days have long since gone when the school was about growing students for the Royal Ballet companies, as opposed to growing students capable of dancing in the wide variety of repertoire they will find in companies across the world, it was terrific to see the school capitalising on world class Royal Ballet choreographers.
Four other works were presented including a full-on national dances extravagance for White Lodge (Lower School) students in Fete de Glinka. A reminder that ability to whip-up a storm in character shoes is part and parcel of ballet life, and sweetly done. Representing European modern choreography was Stijn Celis’ Vertigo Maze for eight final-year students. Low lights, barefoot and in sexy costumes it looked clean and Kylianesque – a solid and welcome diversion to the bill. I later see it “poses questions about freedom amid restrictions and seeks out a place of harmony.” I had no idea.
Five final-year boys got to strut their macho stuff in Helgi Tomassons’s Concerto grosso – a light, fun and challenging piece originally created for a gala by the SFB (San Francisco Ballet) director on his corps de ballet boys. When I talked about strength in depth earlier this piece (and also the Bintley and MacMillan) really exemplified it – tough classical work done well, against a gorgeous light baroque score of Geminiani. Earlier the 2nd and 3rd year Upper School girls got Robbins’ Mistake Waltz from The Concert – wonderfully funny and they nailed the humour. We need more comedy dancing and I wonder what New Art Club’s Roden and Shenton would do with RBS students?
All up, this year’s show had the best mix of repertoire for many years – wide in variety and danced confidently. All that and the Defile – it remains one of my sure fire dance must-sees of any year.