In July, we were delighted to return to the New Wimbledon Theatre for our 25th Anniversary Summer Performances. Featuring all 82 students of the School, the performances showcased our talented young dancers at their best. The programme included Paquita staged by Jean Yves Esquerre, new work by Kerry Nicholls, James Streeter, English National Ballet's Junior Soloist and Graduate of the School and Balabile from Act l of Bournonville's Napoli.
Please see some of the reviews below...
Amanda Jennings, Dance Europe
English National Ballet School's 25th year ended in style with a programme showcasing rigorous training and genuine passion from the young dancers on stage. I was delighted to see, since my previous visits, much improved use of the feet on pointe and top notch upper body work.
A likeable presentation by third year students of Sir Peter Wright's pas de six from Giselle Act l was notable for cracking performances from Luke Francis and John Rhys Halliwell, technically bravura touches and plenty of charm. They are headed for Northern Ballet and the Estonian National Ballet respectively. This was followed by the three winning pieces from the ENBS Choroeographic Competition; best was Negative Space (3rd place) choreographed by Francis and danced superbly by Halliwell, who reminded me of Edward Watson (praise indeed).
First year students were given a chance to show their abilities in Renato Paroni's Mozart Allegro, a challenging piece requiring maximum commitment. This was excellently staged and rehearsed by Nathalia Barbara and Ivan Dinev, with beautiful focus on placement and detail, and a standout performance from Drew Jackson, whose technique is a pleasure to watch. His partnering was a little nervous at times and he can work to improve his batterie, but he has plenty of time for development.
In Metanoia by Kerry Nicholls it was impossible not to be drawn to Halliwell, the contemporary choreography showcasing perfectly his beautiful lines and feet, but here Francis really stood out. His charisma and innate theatricalityset him apart from his peers. Candy Tong, a tall, athletic dancer, impressed, as did the very strong partnering work of Jinhao Zhang.
The fiendishly speedy Balabile from Napoli Act l is dauntingly demanding technically, but the second years pulled it off perfectly. This was so beautifully staged by (Dinna Bjorn) that I felt one could film the dancers from the waist up and still know it was Bournonville, a rare achievement indeed. The pas de deux was charmingly danced by Olivia Lindon and Jordan Bautista, and as always I enjoyed the work of Marcio Teixeira, who progressed steadily.
What better ending than the exquisitely staged (by Jean-Yves Esquerre), immaculately rehearsed performance of Paquita, beautifully danced by all involved. Principals Isabelle Brouwers and Jinhao Zhang are both headed for ENB. Brouwers is an accomplished dancer with a confident, bravura approach; refinement will come with experience. Zhang, an excellent partner with a repertoire of faultlessly executed tricks, will have a bright future if he can develop a warmer stage presence. Honourable mention for Livia Gil in Cupid's solo from the Dryad scene in Don Q; she had previously impressed in the Giselle pas de six.
Critical Dance, David Mead
This year, which marks the English National Ballet School’s 25th anniversary, graduating students are off to join all five of the UK’s major ballet companies. That speaks volumes. So did the School’s summer performance, which as usual combined newly commissioned work with established classics in what turned out to be a most enjoyable evening.
Of the many highlights, Jean-Yves Esquerre’s staging of the Paquita Grand Pas Classique for the final year students stands tall. When danced as only the Grand Pas, it’s one of those ballets that really is all about technique and little else. Leading the cast were the outstanding Isabelle Brouwers and her cavalier, Jinhao Zhang, both of who have gained contracts with English National Ballet. Brouwers, who previously impressed greatly in winning a silver medal at the 2013 Genée Ballet Competition in Glasgow showed great line, placement and épaulement, and gave us some great pirouettes, but better still actually looked like she was enjoying every minute of it too. As, in fact, did pretty much everyone else, all looking elegant in their sparkling costumes, borrowed from Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Stepping down a couple of years, Renato Paroni’s Mozart Allegro, danced to the composer’s Concerto No.22, challenged the technique and musicality of the first years. They too stepped up to the plate wonderfully, especially the two leads, 16-year old Shiori Midorikawa and her partner, 17-year old Drew Jackson. Both were remarkably assured for ones so young. Jackson’s multiple pirouettes were a solid as you could wish for, with not a wobble in sight. Choreographically, the ballet – a feast of grey and pink – is packed with nice patterns, Paroni never letting the interest waiver.
Sir Peter Wright’s Peasant pas de six from his production of Giselle is a classic – and so much more interesting choreographically than the pas de deux seen in most productions. Ashley Scott and Timothée Mochamps led the three couples through their emboîtés, cabrioles and entrelacés. It was generally well-danced, although some of the men’s batterie looked a tad rough.
Classicism of a very different style came from the second years in the Balabile from Act I of Bournonville’s Napoli. Led by Olivia Lindon and Jordan Bautista, who danced the pas de deux, they showed plenty of joie de vivre as they made a fair first of what is tricky choreography – packed with jumps and quick footwork – in a tricky to get to grips with style.
Most impressive of the contemporary pieces was James Streeter’s A Moment in Time made on the third year boys. Inspired by the idea of friendship and that we are all affected and guided by people in our lives, the busy work is a profusion of energy. It does, though, step back from the often rather macho aggression that tends to characterise such pieces. It was very strongly danced with lots of interesting lifts and supports, and a number of great sculptural groupings. The designs are as starkly simple as they come – nothing but tight fitting black shorts and a totally black background – but they are so effective – the light glinting off the dancers’ bodies and catching limbs and torsos in often beautiful ways.
Also for the third years, Kerry Nichols’ Metanoia draws on ideas of change, and that it is those most responsive to it that are most likely to survive – not that you would have got that without the programme note! Another busy piece, full of comings and goings, full of small groups forming and dispensing, strange shapes and big extensions, it’s redolent of Wayne McGregor’s work. That sense is added to by the pounding, pulsing score by Ben Frost (a McGregor favourite), Tomas Hilmarsson and Valgeir Sigurosson.
Completing the programme were three short pieces from this year’s school choreography competition. There was plenty of talent here too. All three were impressive and fully deserved their spot in the evening.It wasn’t difficult to see why Emmeline Jansen’s Count Down took first prize. Also danced by Jansen, it’s another piece with more than a touch of Wayne McGregor about it. Not only did the solo included quite a lot of detailed gesture with her right hand that suggested drawing in the space, but there were lots of great extensions that seemed to stretch into the space way beyond her toes and, best of all, some wonderful use of her flexible back.
Also danced was Undefined by a quartet of second year second prize winners (Syanne Day, Conal Francis-Martin, Kaylee Marko, Archie Sullivan), performed to music by what it seems is every choreographer’s favourite composer these days: Max Richter. It included an interesting male duet.
Even more Wayne McGregor like than Jansen’s piece, was third year Luke Francis’ solo Negative Space, which took third prize. John Rhys-Halliwell (another who shone at last year’s Genée and who is bound for the Estonian National Ballet) danced with incredible clarity, the choreography again including some big extensions of the sort less often seen for men. I particularly liked the way the generally fast choreography included sudden slowings or even monetary pauses.
Besides those detailed, most of the other graduating dancers have places with companies confirmed, including with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet, Ballet Béjart Lausanne, Leipzig Ballet, and Romanian National Ballet to name but a few – an impressive list indeed.