English National Ballet School Studio Theatre, London
December 7, 2017
Standing almost alone among the vocational dance schools, English National Ballet School stage a mid-year showcase. This year, new director of dance Carlos Valcárel shook the usual programme up a little, dropping the choreographed exhibition of class work. But that still left a more than interesting evening of excerpts from the classics that connected with English National Ballet’s current repertory, contemporary work, and some very promising student choreography.
Things got off to a great start with some restaged dances from Giselle (the classical one), with the reworked Peasant pas de deux being particularly well done.
Best of the student choreography was A Moment by 3rd year Rentaro Nakaaki, danced by Molly Hall and Yuki Nonaka. There is a tendency among young choreographers to try and pack too much in, especially when they only have time limit, so how nice it was to see that Nakaaki realise that stillness can say as much as steps and give the dance every opportunity to breathe. A Moment is clearly a dance about aspects of relationship. A solo for Hall includes lots of reaching out with one arm, the other then pulling it back. All this while Nonaka sits with his back to the audience (he had presence even here). A very expressive solo for him is following by an unexpected unison sequence as the couple in their identical long black skirts come together, before the dance (almost) comes full circle in an echo of the beginning. A Moment oozed sophistication and fully deserves another outing in next year’s Summer Showcase.
Students also tend to go all contemporary in their own choreography, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the 2nd year quintet of Vania De Rosas, Victor González Pérez, Lauren Mitchell, Kirica Takahashi and Valerio Zaffalon use classical dance and pointework in their Volts. While solidly rooted in classical ballet, their well-structured dance also had quite a contemporary edge. With its nod in the direction of early William Forsythe, I just felt it needed a little more electricity and ‘attitude’, though. Takahashi stood out for her perfectly judged souciance as well as her dance. Top marks for the lovely coloured costumes too.
Representing the 1st years was Liudmila Loglisci, who danced in her own solo, Head, which appeared to be about some inner turmoil in her mind.
I also enjoyed the two contemporary solos originally created by Goyo Montero, director of the Staatstheater Ballet in Nuremberg, for the Prix de Lausanne. Grinding the Teeth, to music by Owen Belton and danced by Lorenzo Epifani, is the edgier of the two, the choreography echoing the friction in the score. Marina Miguez Carrasco was captivating in Saraband, a lovely evocation of Bach’s Saraband for Cello that is full of pleasing extensions. Like Epifani, Carrasco showed clear intention behind every movement.
As if the Le Corsaire pas de deux wasn’t difficult enough, Remi Nakano and Yuki Nonanka faced the extra problem of squeezing it into the small studio theatre space. Both dancers performed with confidence and élan. Nonaka was especially light in his jumps, and he made the overhead lifts look easy. Nakano produced an excellent series of double and single fouettés, coming forwards on a line you could have put a ruler against.
A contemporary ensemble piece, First Take… Cunningham, on the other hand didn’t quite convince, the 2nd year dancers looking as if the Cunningham-inspired vocabulary was not entirely at home in their bodies.
Elsewhere, the 1st years presented a bright and upbeat Ukrainian Dance. It being December, what else could the evening be rounded off by than a dash of The Nutcracker, specifically the Waltz of the Flowers, again neatly staged and well-danced.
All round, it was an evening of passion, commitment and pleasing musicality. It was just a shame that a few of the men had off nights, especially with their double tours en l’air. Still, one senses that Valcárcel is clearly building on the excellent job done by his predecessor, Samira Saidi. Next summer’s full-scale performances should be worth seeing.