Photo: Emma Kauldhar
Jonathan Gray, Dancing Times
English National Ballet School presented the best end-of-year show that I saw performed by a ballet school in 2017. The dancing was fresh, spontaneous and vivid, so it was something of a surprise to discover that this was to be Samira Saidi’s swansong as director of dance. As reported last month, Carlos Valcárcel has now taken up the position as the new director, but Saidi will be a hard act to follow and she went out on a high.
Saidi had programmed a wide selection of works for the young dancers to perform at the New Wimbledon Theatre on July 7, including special commissions, student choreography, and items from classical repertoire – it was a very good mix.
Juan Eymar created the opening Two Movements in C to the music by Bizet that George Balanchine used for Symphony in C. It’s not always a good idea to make a new ballet to music that is so familiar from another work, especially by a master like Balanchine, but I thought Eymar displayed the classical prowness of the dancers extremely well, helping them understand how to cooperate in an ensemble. The ballet was led with aplomb by Anna Ciriano Cerdà and Daniel Myers, and the ensemble did extremely well, especially as the stage at the New Wimbledon Theatre in not large.
In a series of dances created by student choreographers, Luke Watson’s The Cry for Man was a work full of dramatic poses and fluttering arms for Adrià Vilar Algueró and his five companions. Daniel Myers and Luke Watson were antagonistic in James Lachlan Murray’s aFfront; and Madison Whiteley, Jan Spunda and Anna-Babette Winkler appeared in Daniel Myer’s amorous Fleeting Desires.
Jeong Eun Park and Conner Jordan-Collins danced with confidence and variety in Daniel Cardim’s large-scale The Whisper, and Morgan Runacre-Temple gave inventive, mechanistic choreography that reminded me of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis to Rhys Antoni Yeomans and his colleagues in Short Ride in a fast Machine.
The second half of the programme showed the students in contemporary styles, from Mats Ek’s whimsical Pas de Danse with Anna Ciriano Cerdà, Antonin Faraut, Júlia Baró Claveria and Jan Spunda, to Neil Flemming Brown’s The Matter of Time, highly influenced by choreographers William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor. There was more classical dancing too, including the “Fascination Pas de Deux” and divertissement from Marius Petipa’s Satanella, Carnival of Venice, more familiar in the UK from performances by the Trocks, but in which the exciting Rhys Antoni Yeomans gave an outstanding account of his solo, and Misato Isogami danced prettily in the ballerina role. It ended the evening with a real flourish.
DanceTabs, Jan Parry
This year’s summer performance by English National Ballet School marked the departure of Samira Saidi as Director of Dance after five years in the post. Among her achievements she has overseen a choreographic programme for the students, involving them in an annual competition and in contributing to the works she has commissioned for the end-of-year show. The lively results were evident in the varied contributions to the 2017 programme, featuring students from all three years of the school’s training system.
The opening piece, Two Movements in C, by teacher and choreographer Juan Eymar, united them all in a neo-classical mini-ballet to movements from Bizet’s Symphony in C – familiar from Balanchine’s full-length ballet to the same music. Eymar avoided overt references to Balanchine, keeping his corps of colour-coded youngsters intermingled with four third year couples and a central pas de deux pair, Anna Ciriano Cerdà and Daniel Myers.
Then followed three prize-winning entrants from the choreographic competition in May. I was most taken by the 2nd place winner, James Lachlan Murray’s afFront. His was a duet – or rather a duel – between two men in long skirts, Thomas Holdsworth and Daniel Myers. They confronted each other, interlocking like stags or Argentinian tango dancers, swapping roles between aggressor and defender.
Before the interval came two commissions: The Whisper, by Daniela Cardim for 2nd years, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine by Morgann Runacre-Temple for 3rd years. Cardim’s Whisper featured a troubled young man, Andrea Marcelletti, challenged by two very different girls, Ana Ramos and her rival, Jeong Eun Park. A corps of 17 commented on the man’s dilemma, which turned out to be a dream – or nightmare: ingenious but confusing.
Short Ride in a Fast Machine, to John Adams’s music of the same name, was Runacre-Temple’s development of the solo she created for Rhys Antoni Yeomans when he was a finalist in this year’s BBC Young Dancer competition. Television viewers will have seen her pushing Yeomans out of his comfort zone in expressive contemporary choreography. In the extended piece for 12 dancers, his solo came towards the end, to another composition by Adams, The Chairman Dances. This time, Yeomans was in supreme command of the choreography, accompanied on his journey by a frieze of dancers progressing across the stage from (audience) left to right.
The cast had devised repeated phrases of movement through set tasks, following the music’s cumulative structure. Their continuous path across the back was hypnotic, as they rejoined in a chain of linked hands. Couples who broke away were reabsorbed, until by the finale the stage filled with surging energy. This is an original creation well worth preserving for future performances.
The highlight of the second half of the programme was Mats Ek’s Pas de Danse, staged by his assistant, Pompea Santoro. What starts out as a duet for a conflicted man and woman, Olivia Caughey and Daniel Myers, becomes a quartet as they are joined by a seemingly happier couple, Anna-Babette Winkler and Thomas Holdsworth. They swap partners to Swedish folk music (by Benny Andersson of Abba fame), striding, galumphing and hanging on to each other’s body parts. Ek’s exaggerated folk-based movements are comically earthy, and the piece ends when Myers sneezes loudly into his handkerchief, deserted by the others.
The rest of the programme included a Tarantella by character dance teacher Olga Semenova and a revival of Stina Quagebeur’s light-hearted suite of duets, Après une lecture de danse, both for 1st years. George Williamson contributed the final pas de deux from his account of My First Cinderella, charmingly danced by Maria del Mar Bonet Sans and Riku Yamamoto.
3rd year students collaborated with Neil Fleming Brown (formerly with Random Dance) for The Matter of Time. They came up with contemporary ballet’s abusive partnering, convulsions and stompings off, to rackety electronic music. Mercifully brief, it prepared the graduates for the distortions of some modern choreography.
They still looked like students in the showpiece extract from Satanella, a long-lost Petipa ballet. Only a divertissement known as The Carnival of Venice survives, to music by Cesare Pugni. A central pas de deux couple (Julia Baro Claveria and Jan Spunda on Saturday night) is supported by four other couples in demanding classical choreography. No doubt tired on a very hot last night, the dancers looked overstretched. Spunda was the exception, partnering manfully and leaping buoyantly. He has a delightful stage presence, which should serve him well when he joins the Bavarian State Ballet.
The graduates disperse all over Europe, with only Yeomans becoming a member of English National Ballet (others have part time contracts with ENB). Thomas Holdsworth joins Northern Ballet and Alexander Hallas is taken into NB’s graduate course.
Seeing Dance, Maggie Foyer
It was an evening of celebration as another year at the English National Ballet School comes to an end: first and second years move up a rung and third years leave the nest and launch their careers. There was an impressive list of students gaining contracts at major companies including four entering the English National Ballet, one of them, Rhys Antoni Yeomans on a full contract.
It was also an evening of variety with plenty of new choreographies from current students, alumni and famous names. The predominant dance style was neo-classical and danced with refreshing freedom, liberated torsos and expressive arms. This style came to the fore in Juan Eymar’s Two Movements in C, written to Bizet’s youthful Symphony. He included all three years of students, and it gave an overview of the strength of training and impressive sensitivity to the music. The partnering was secure, pointe work confident and assured and, when the students got the opportunity to show off, they pirouetted and leapt with abandon.
The first years had their own dedicated work in Aprés Une Lecture De Danse by Stina Quagebeur, former student and now first artist with the ENB. The music was a mixed bag including some jazz interludes and it was a chance to release their technique from the training manual and get down to using it, which they did with panache. They also bagged the folk-dance excerpt, a lively, balleticised Tarantella choreographed by Olga Semenova.
Petipa’s divertissement from Carnival of Venice which includes the Satanella Pas de Deux was the Third Year’s classical work with Misato Isogami and Yeomans taking the duet and four couples providing the frame. Isogami was ideal in the role which needs oodles of charm and precision-tooled pointes. Yeoman, an excellent partner, gave a strong showing in his solo and a brilliant jeté manège in the coda, George Williamson’s Cinderella, part of the My First Ballet series for young people has been touring the country providing valuable performing experience for the second-year students. This stage experience paid off as Remi Nakano and Yuki Nonaka, in the romantic Final Pas de Deux, looked so at home on stage, communicating their emotions effortlessly.
The three top entries from the students’ choreographic competition were given a welcome repeat performance. It was good to have another viewing of The Cry for Man by Luke Watson with its intriguing insider/outsider theme and inventive movement. The trendily titled, afFront, by James Lachlan Murray was given an edgy performance by Watson with Daniel Myers. Myers own choreography, Fleeting Desires, danced on pointe but full of fluid motion looked even better on its return.
There were several more contemporary works. The Matter of Time by Neil Fleming Brown with a self-confident and gritty score was danced in bare legs and black leotards showing these third years could be as fiercely modern as the best. Daniela Cardim’s The Whisper was a class work of modern ballet with a quirky back story to give a handle. Morgann Runacre-Temple’s work, Short Ride in a Fast Machine to John Adams work of the same name is an extension of the work she choreography on Yeomans for the BBC Young Dancer Finals. It’s a concisely structured, neo-classical piece working on fast moving traverse patterns, sparse and athletic, and a great vehicle for the third years.
And in the middle was Mats Ek’s blissful Pas de Dans: two couples in a homespun romance, a little mix and match, a dash of comedy and Ek’s distinctive choreographic language. Pompea Santoro who set the work picked her dancers with skill. Antonin Faraut, tall and gauche with a gift for comedy, the feisty Anna Ciriano Cerdà and the passionate pairing of Júlia Baró Claveria and Jan Špunda each brought something of themselves to this intensely human work. It was hot and crowded in Wimbledon – there was another event just down the road – but the enthusiasm and professionalism of staff and students rose about all that, to provide an excellent showcase for ENBS.