Royal Ballet’s Gary Avis and Friends Gala: Ipswich, September 2011

by Bruce Marriott on September 20, 2011

Gary Avis and Melissa Hamilton in Wheeldon's DGV - Danse a grande vitesse.
© Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

Gary Avis and Melissa Hamilton in Alastair Marriott's Lieder.
© Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

Gary Avis and Begona Cao in Wheeldon's Pavane pour une infante defunte.
© Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae in Grande Pas de deux from Don Quixote.
© Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

Steven McRae in Something Different.
© Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

Final bows. © Roger Barcham at BMS Imaging. Click image for larger version, or one that fills the browser window.

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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Meredith September 20, 2011 at 14:25

And I was there at the Sunday evening performance. Magical. What a wonderful treat to see such beautifully performed pieces. It was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to see Gary Avis dance ‘live’ since he was a young lad, although I’ve followed his career from afar. I thought I was going to burst with excitement and pleasure. A truly wonderful evening and I’m delighted so much money was raised for the Hunger Project. Well done Gary and everyone who gave their time so freely.

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Anna Merrick September 22, 2011 at 14:05

Spot on review Bruce. I thought it was a thoughtfully put together gala which showed off the RB dancers to great effect. Funny that the smallish stage of the Ipswich Regent was almost an advantage – I often feel that pdd taken out of context & without staging fall a little flat but the smaller stage helped to mitigate against that. The audience clearly loved it ,as did my friend and I, we thought it was well worth the trek from London.

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Tim Holder September 25, 2011 at 13:31

Thank you to Balletco for coming along to the gala and supporting The Hunger Project’s second World Hunger Day event. It means a great deal to all of us. A wonderful review too! Our next major project will be on the next official World Hunger Day, which is May 28th, 2012 and will be held at The Royal Albert Hall in London. We are currently creating the line up which we already know will be led by the legendary Dionne Warwick and her musicians and will also include a full orchestra…I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few well known faces to Balletco pop up in the line-up too as it develops. Tickets are not on sale yet, but keep an eye on http://www.thehungerproject.uk for details. In the meantime it is still not too late to show your support for Gary Avis & Friends by making a donation via http://www.Justgiving.com/Gary-Avis. Thanks again to Bruce and all at Balletco….you’ve been amazing. Tim

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