Royal Ballet’s Gary Avis and Friends
DGV | Lieder | Pavane pour une infante defunte | Something Different | Cinderella pdd | Black Swan pdd | Highlights from Elite Syncopations
Ipswich, Regent Theatre
11 September 2011
Gary Avis garners huge respect amongst Royal Ballet watchers – I simply can’t recall the last time somebody criticised a performance of his for example. And he gets reviewed a lot too – probably more than most others in the company, because he is so central to its repertoire. And the work rate continues off the main stage too – such as when novice choreographers are working in their own time for a small show, he’s there in his spare time too to lend their thoughts dance life and when other dancers have done Galas he’s first with his hand up. Appropriate then that Gary does his own show and with much thought too, coupling fund raising (The Hunger Project), taking Royal Ballet dancers out of London (Hell normally freezes over more easily) and shining a light on dance training and showing all the youngsters of his home town that what they do can lead to very amazing things. And of course it was also a chance for Gary to let his hair down in his choice of rep for once. The result was two full houses (on a Sunday to boot) filled with people from all walks of life (ballet posh? – not at all) and a good few Royal Opera House regulars come to see an enjoyable show the likes of which hardly ever gets put on at Covent Garden.
All up there were over 20 pieces for our enjoyment: what follows are some of my highlights… I have to start with Gary’s dancing with Melissa Hamilton in Alastair Marriott’s Lieder and Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV – both exceptional. He was the great partner we expect but there was a powerful emotional tug to their dancing and young as she is Hamilton is fully up to the roles that Darcey Bussell created – in this case the Wheeldon. Much mentioned already, Hamilton really does deliver the goods both emotionally and technically. However the piece I liked most with Gary was Wheeldon’s early work Pavane pour une infante defunte – the famous Ravel score. It’s the type of short, ravishing duet that audiences love and very serious critics think inconsequential. Humbug – and long live its fresh, long-limbed serenity, well put over by Gary and English National Ballet principal Begona Cao.
The sadness was that the aspect of Gary’s career he is now most known for, character dancing (his proper dance title is Principal Character Artist) was not really shown. Understandable – it’s very hard to rip character roles out of the full-evening works we love so much, though the programme included many pictures showing his wonderful versatility. He’s not just one of the leading dance actors of his generation but really one of the best the company has ever possessed. While other dancers will retire, it’s Gary’s wonderful lot in life to be able to dance on in these meaty roles and, coupled with his Ballet Mastering role, to bring through new generations of young Royal Ballet dancers to do proper justice to the unique repertoire it possesses. It’s the biggest and rarest role of them all, really.
Besides ballet there was also some song from a local choir and Jumoke Fashola who had appeared in the London World Hunger Day Concert back in January to much acclaim. My goodness, what a glorious voice, which I’d love to hear again, but in tow came a pianist much into modern jazz improvisation which I put on a level with Stockhausen in terms of discordant grimness. Towards the end of a number Jumoke, blissfully happy at his extemporizing, muttered “Don’t stop” and worried that he might obey I seriously thought about shouting “Oh please do”. The show was hosted by the love-her-or-loathe-her, Angela Rippon. The consummate professional (though I will draw a veil over her dance with Gary) she moved things on well, if personally I don’t think any of these non-dance items were really needed with so much good ballet speaking for itself.
Gary’s Royal Ballet friends generally did him proud. Hard not to like the irrepressible Steven McRae doing his Something Different tap dancing routine and more traditionally with Roberta Marquez in several pas de deux. Theirs is an impressive partnership: physically they fit perfectly and emotionally they complement – she beautiful and quietly immaculate and he the dandy who never seems to be found wanting. In all three pdd they impressed. Also hard not to like Yuhui Choe in the ballroom pdd from Cinderella – it suited her happy stage persona better than the Black Swan pdd which needs the dramatic swagger of an older head to do it proper justice. Her partner in both cases was Nehemiah Kish who seems willing but bland and not at home yet after joining from Copenhagen last year. Of course Gary had more RB dance friends involved than those mentioned above and the picture gallery gives a wider feel for what proved an audience winning show.
The evening ended in highlights from MacMillan’s ragtime ballet Elite Syncopations where students from Gary’s original school in Ipswich (the Linda Shipton School of Dance) were neatly included. A nice gesture, as was opening the show with local students of all ages doing classical steps and a heartening reminder to all that those Saturday morning classes can lead somewhere incredible.
Gary sent me 30 pictures of the show which you can see in the associated gallery. In signing off he used some terrific words which can’t really be bettered:
“2,600 people through the door at the Gala performances, 200 volunteers from the local community and around the country helping with all aspects of the production plus a Creative Dance Workshop for 100 young dancers from Suffolk. £50,000 raised for The Hunger Project and one very happy Gary Avis.”
That’s the way to do it folks.