Review: Ballet Central - Mixed Bill - Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 11 May 2014
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Sunday 11 May 2014

Ballet Central Company. Photo: Bill Cooper.

Celebrating its 30th birthday this year, Ballet Central is the graduate performing company of the Central School of Ballet and has a deservedly good reputation for the technical quality of its productions. This year’s crop of 31 young dancers performs – crucially – like a company that has trained together, built work together and rehearsed together as an ensemble since the beginning of the academic year, and this mixed bill of seven short works is performed with a well-drilled panache.

The programme at the Linbury on Sunday evening opened in classical mode with the Corn Pas De Deux from Coppélia, in which young lovers Franz (Peter Allen) and Swanilda (Saki Katoka) reconcile over an ear of wheat following a quarrel. Katoka has neat feet and a nice springy line in petite batterie, and warms the role with youthful sunshine. Her seven female friends bourrée along in pretty unison. And that’s pretty much it for tutus; the rest of the evening is devoted to modern ballet with a couple of mid-century twists.

Current company director Sara Matthews offers two solos reflecting on the centenary of WWI, both set to poems narrated by Derek Jacobi.
Rendezvous finds dancer Duncan Anderson slicing around his own torso and weaving across the floor, often in silence and barely lit by dim orange sidelights. Futility adds female dancer Alexandra Davies and a burst of Barber’s Adagio for Strings; the programme note suggests that the pieces were both inspired by ballets performed in Europe during the time of the Great War, but the abstract sequences of non-stop spiralling motion suggests nothing so much as one of Richard Alston’s castoffs. Both are cleanly and athletically performed, but in a year of tributes to the start of WWI, Matthews’ brace of formal meditations add little to the discussion.

CSB graduate Andrew McNicol is currently taking part in the school’s MA Choreography programme. His ensemble piece Continuum is also abstract and formal by design, taking its cue from different interpretations of time. The touchstone here is Christopher Wheeldon: McNicol’s piece is full of high-flying doublework, wide-split extensions and rapid step sequences en pointe. Strong solos erupt from linear ensembles, suggesting individual experiences of time against a background of tick-tocking linear progressions; it’s clear that McNicol has given some thought to the craft of his piece and the company approaches it with vigour.

Christopher Gable’s Five Lullabies will sit best with those in the audience who like their ballets winsome with extra sugar on top. Performed to a piano score, performed live by Clinton Cormany, the piece evokes a rose-tinted childhood of hopscotch, skipping games and sailor suits. Fans of Rambert’s Christopher Bruce will enjoy the cutely-constructed whimsy of three nautically-clad young ladies finding love among the playground games; others may find all the hide-and-and-seek on tiptoe a touch on the saccharine side.

CSB teacher Leanne King created Toots Goes to Charleston as an homage to her own grandmother, and this tribute to the flapper generation fizzes along with an effervescent energy that adds a welcome note of contrast to the programme. The cast all look gorgeous in their pastel-coloured fringes and feathers, tapping and twisting away to the Electro Nujazz sounds of Tape Five. Purists might argue that some of the moves on display owe more to later Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing than to Charleston proper, but the cast dance with such unforced joy that it’s hard to feel too dismayed.

Northern Ballet’s Daniel de Andrade closes the second act with Meraki, named after a Greek word that means “doing something with love and soul” and brings this idea to the development of the dancers themselves, and how they have put themselves into the work they love over their years of training. Tiny Wing Yue Leung is a vibrant force on stage during the piece, ending up in a variety of excitingly angular inversions.

The evening’s final piece is Carousel Dances, choreographed by former BC company member and previous collaborator Christopher Marney. As the name suggests, it’s a recreation of the ballet sequence from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Marney’s experience as a regular New Adventures company member shows; the piece is characterful, colourful and danced with a pleasing lightness and musicality. Emma Walker is pretty and perky as Louise; Hugo Brown her capable partner. Whether you like this jaunty, jewel-coloured finale probably depends on how you feel about Richard Rodgers’ music, but there’s no doubting the cast give the work their animated best.

Ballet Central has consistently turned out well-performed shows and this year’s cast show as much promise as their counterparts in previous years, boding well for our chances of seeing them housed with repertory companies in the future. The programme shelters on the safe side, and it would be nice to see the company take some genuine risks with its choice of guest choreographers – something or someone that gives these capable dancers a greater physical and creative challenge.

Showcasing 31 dancers clearly presents some logistical problems, and it’s not a short programme either. But the company knows where its strengths lie; Ballet Central has been producing nicely turned-out (in every sense) dancers for the last thirty years, and will doubtless continue to do so.

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist, Dancetabs & Arts Professional.

Photos: Bill Cooper

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