Royal Ballet School
Young Talent Festival: Paquita mazurka & pas de trois, Earthborn, Solitude, End of the Road, Scottish Dances from Flowers of the Forest, Swan Lake, Untied Undone, Les Ames Malades, Swan Lake pas de six, Start Again, Simple Symphony
London, Linbury Theatre
26 June 2019
The last hurrah for the Royal Ballet’s inaugural Young Talent Festival was reserved for its own school – and what a packed programme it laid on.
Twenty-four White Lodge students from Years 8 and 9 flooded the stage to open with the mazurka from Paquita, followed by an enchanting rendition of that ballet’s pas de trois. Daichi Ikarashi gets noticed at every school performance he appears in, and no wonder, his line, propulsion and control here were simply glorious; Marianna Tsembenhoi and Brigid Walker also sparkled.
Robert Binet’s Earthborn, created in 2013 for Canada’s National Ballet School, played with axis and tension as the energy of nine male dancers encountered the authoritative presence of three female dancers. Then the first batch of student choreography: George Ring and Luke Wragg’s Solitude had a well-drilled corps of youngsters dancing to Max Richter’s November; End of the Road, created by the Year 11 student Jack Bruce, was built round Clair de Lune and had an air of old-fashioned romance about it, with its wartime look, old portable wireless and gentle intimacy.
The Scottish Dances from David Bintley’s Flowers of the Forest was a lovely tribute to the retiring artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet – and enthusiastically performed. There was high-jumping male peacocking from Raphael Duval, Johnny Randall and Matthew Bates (resplendent in their kilts), comedic drunken stumbling and a beautifully delicate duet with a captivating turn from Xinyue Zhao, a Prix de Lausanne scholarship student with poise and presence.
Randall appeared again – and showed real dramatic flair – in the extract from Mats Ek’s Swan Lake that opened the second half. What a beguilingly strange work this is, with the classical lines subverted at every opportunity, making the dancers move with an exaggerated, clumsy, almost alien strangeness. Randall and the female dancers rose to the challenge impressively.
The 15 male dancers tackling Ashley Page’s Untied, Undone showed great stamina – this is a piece that builds its power slowly, switching between three groups of five dancers with a hurtlingly fast, highly athletic interpretation of the fourth movement of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony. There are no still moments in which to find your equilibrium; but the dancers held their own and by the end all 15 were creating waves of movement that swelled and ebbed across the stage rather thrillingly.
More student choreography: Sacha Genet put together Albinoni’s well-worn Adagio in G Minor and a huge dollop of Victorian gothic romanticism for Les Ames Malades, which had a breast-clutching, swooning Tsembenhoi in floaty white being restrained and consoled by four more women in floaty white. It was a bit overwrought. The Swan Lake pas de six that followed it was the only time an attack of nerves really hit these students – luckily, Zhao was on hand to sail serenely through Ashton’s demanding classicism with precision and grace.
School performances invite you to wonder which of the students will be the main-stage stars of tomorrow – with the American dancer Kele Roberson, there’s little room for doubt that he’s is going to make an impression. The Texan deferred his place at the Juilliard School to receive a Royal Ballet School training; here he was given the opportunity to perform his own solo piece, Start Again, a burst of vigorous contemporary movement shot through with a street-dance looseness. Roberson stamped his authority across the stage, a delight to watch.
The finale was a revival of Alastair Marriott’s Simple Symphony, created on Royal Ballet students (including the newly minted RB principal Marcelino Sambé) in 2012. Simple it is not; it takes Britten’s Simple Symphony for strings, adds a riot of intricate, playful, neo-classical “fauns in a glade” dancing, and gives it an eye-popping colour palette of lime, raspberry, pink and orange. There’s fiendish footwork and devilish lifts to master here – but the three principal couples, particularly Hanna Park and James Large, executed their duets with energy and attention to detail.
This crop of Royal Ballet School students come across as confident and versatile – which all bodes well for the future. And there’s a chance to see a lot of these pieces in the Royal Ballet School summer performances at Opera Holland Park and on the Royal Opera House main stage, all in July.