Images Ballet Company
Tour 2017: Distant Beauties, Concerto for Joyce and Dennis, Handsfree, Scenes of Death and Disaster
London, Lilian Baylis Studio
13 June 2017
This year’s Images Ballet Company is 8 strong, small in the graduate school scheme of things, and yet their show was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in years with a wonderful and eclectic choice of repertoire, danced with passion and verve. Images is one of London Studio Centre’s four dance companies (others concentrate on contemporary, jazz and musical theatre) and is directed by Jennifer Jackson, and that accounts for the varied and interesting selection of works. Jackson is ex-Royal Ballet, but vitally was one of the small band of Royal dancers who, back in the 1980s, formed Dance Advance, fed up as they were with the status quo of a large company approach and wanting to take ballet out and forward. And ever since, Jackson has continued to reflect on what ballet is, and can be, as a choreographer, director and lecturer. And if you think that might lead to a rather academic, dry and prissy programme you would be entirely wrong.
Every school with ballet in its name has to do a full-on classical piece and Jackson’s Distant Beauties was that piece – if rather deconstructed, put through a mincer and presented beautifully and attentively. It all starts with the music – the Sleeping Beauty Pas de six but reduced and playfully and edgily extended by Tom Armstrong for just flute and viola. I have to confess the music tantalises and competes with the dancers as you hear it slip-sliding around some of ballet’s best-known phrases. The music wasn’t designed for straight Petipa steps and Jackson responds in kind with what you might call thoughtful classicism – looser, teasing steps, but all delivered with assurance and good line, I thought. The noticeable thing was that all 8 students seemed gifted and able – rare to see in a school show piece (sorry, but true!) and it was a hallmark of the night – strength across the board.
Matthew Hart’s Concerto for Joyce and Dennis starts funnily with a posse of very elderly ladies, in slippers, shuffling on stage with zimmer frames and arranging themselves in a semi-circle – they are all in separate worlds and nobody really interacts with anybody else. Central, beneath a wedding picture of herself and Denis, is Joyce (actually Hart’s real grandparents) and to what become poignant songs from Sinatra and Matt Monro, separated by a Malcolm Arnold piano concerto (which also has overtones of ageing) he whimsically explores the reality of life constrained and the expansive flights of fancy that the mind can conjure and we can see in dance. A thoughtful reflective piece, if it got a little muddled at times with the onstage changing of costumes and zimmer frame duets.
When I think of Morgann Runacre-Temple I normally think of very dramatic work and it was a real surprise to see her deliver an abstract piece – Handsfree. Perhaps what shouldn’t have been a surprise is that despite this it had a memorably quirky edge in using an Anna Meredith score (of the same name) that uses no instruments – just the body. There is lots of clapping but later we get hissing, chuntering and a ‘train’ for example – it’s diverse and clever. Runacre-Temple’s movement is bold and about combining the dancers to form bigger shapes and interesting lines. There’s a striking, twisting dynamism as the 4 dancers spool across the stage following square pools of light (Zia Bergin-Holly – good). I also liked the costumes (Louie Whitemore) for this – shift dresses with a slit up each side giving lots of room for the legs to extend powerfully. Although I think of it as bold and powerful piece there wasn’t any aggression at all in it – pleasingly soft power is unusual.
For all-out-bonkers dance it’s hard to beat Liz Aggiss, and her Scenes of Death and Disaster closed out the show with glorious panache. It starts with an appearance by the Grim Reaper and goes up-or downhill from there, as Aggiss does a surreal exploration of the richness of ballet and other plots using well-known ballet music and more quirky selections from Europe and Scotland. It’s a huge understatement to say it was fast-paced and almost too much to take in at one sitting. Ballsy and loud, there is no place to hide for any shy retiring types and all the students let rip in it. Although irreverent and very off-the-wall, somehow it seemed a very fitting end to a night of grown-up dance. I won’t single out any one dancer but I congratulate them all – Briony Andrew, Maria Bruget, Elanora Falovo, Jessica Harding, Courney Reading, Shaun Reidman, Maria S. Calatayud and Gwainn van der Bijl – and wish them well as they hunt for jobs. It’s also only just struck me that, while this is the most interesting school show I’ve seen in a while, that might be because 3 of the 4 works were made by female choreographers and a different feel emerges. Of course I shouldn’t be mentioning the sex of choreographers in an ideal world – but we are not yet in an idea world. Anyway a huge toot to Jennifer Jackson and Images Ballet Company for a job well done.