LAST EDITED ON 20-07-05 AT 07:29 AM (GMT) by Bruce (admin)
Royal Ballet School Annual Matinee performance
Royal Opera House
16 July 2005
The RBS annual performance always manages to throw up a few surprises. The actual programme for one thing isn’t usually described in any detail in advance and the exact mix of lower school and upper school students is not often stated in advance. Recent performances have included a fair amount of pieces commissioned for the occasion, sometimes seemingly with the aim of getting as many students on to the stage as possible, rather than to create a lasting work.
Hence it was a pleasant surprise too see some real, testing choreography on the programme, in the form of Ashton’s Monotones II and La Valse. Monotones II has been conspicuously absent from the Royal’s programming in his centenary year and is performed at bafflingly infrequent intervals by the company. La Valse has been presented by the school before, and returns to the Royal’s repertory next season. The programme states that a planned performance of Checkmate had to be deferred due to lack of stage rehearsal time.
Monotones II is a challenge even for experienced principal dancers: two men partner one woman through very precise and elegant manipulations and lifts in a sleek pared down language where every gesture must be carefully judged and each arm or leg must perfectly mirror that of the other performers. It was a difficult task for the performers, and not everything was as quite as smooth and flowing as it might be, but they gained in confidence as the work progressed. The three performers here are all heading off to different companies in Germany and America.
La Valse is a different kind of challenge. This is a highly atmospheric work, couples waltzing in a dimly lit ballroom, where the music builds and builds into something oppressive and frantic, as it finally suggests a histrionic dance to death. The students caught the opening youthful charm but the haunting sense of doom that should build up wasn’t there. Perhaps this isn’t really such a suitable choice for students - it’s a tempting one, as it requires a big cast and gives the boys in particular plenty to do (and they clearly relished it) but it asks for more dramatic nuance than can be expected from 18 year olds.
The Upper school dominated the programme – no little boys dancing the hornpipe or country dances this year, I presume these feature only in the Linbury performances now.. The lower school were only featured in the opening work, Allegro de Jeunesse, a new creation from Liam Scarlett. He is a pupil of the upper school who joins the Royal this year, and this is his second work for the school matinee (Monochromatic was featured last year, to general acclaim). Allegro de Jeurnesse was set to Tchaikovsky’s 3rd piano concerto, agreeably danceable music. Scarlett managed a very large cast of varying ages (year 10 and below) with considerable tact and charm and a strong sense of organisation. Unusually for a young choreographer he seems to be more at home handling large numbers and blocks of dancers rather than individual dancers or pas de deux. It looks as if he has started out thinking on a big scale and worked down to the detail rather than the other way round. Ruth Bailey (year 10) was a very composed leading lady.
The second half of the programme gave us a more modern work, Uneven Ground, from Paul Boyd. This has a lovely atmospheric soundtrack of Latin American songs from Mercedes Sosa, who I vowed to go and find out more about. It allows the boys to experiment with some more contemporary moves. One of the “boys” removes his cap to emerge as a girl which is a cue for some teasing and flirting. Jade Payette had a great deal of fun with her role.
The grand pas from Raymonda Act 3 was not quite the version in the Royal’s rep (Nureyev’s setting in the white and gold designs) but instead a rather cut down version danced in red costumes by a corps of 16, with Milena Sidorova and Alexander Jones as the leads. This was danced with verve and enthusiasm, but I thought the stage at times looked rather bare and it was missing the feeling of grandeur that the music suggests. Sidorova (who joins Dutch National Ballet) did a competent job of her variation (with the handclaps) but there were no fouettées in the text here. (I have a memory of Nunez while still at the school confidently whizzing through a string of fouettées but I can’t quite place the memory).
The defilé that closes the programme is always a thrill, as the stage fills with class after class, each getting a rapid chance to make an impression. It was the boys of the final year who had the best of it here, getting the cheers for some spectacular jumps. Generally, that seemed to confirm the impression of the afternoon: the boys, for whatever reason, made the bigger impression. I didn’t come away with an overpowering impression of any single individual. Nevertheless, there is an overpowering sense of joy and a real buzz of achievement as all 200 dancers pour onto the stage. Terrific stuff.