July 11, 2020
English National Ballet School has experienced a double whammy: They have a magnificent new home in the ENB dance studios on City Island – and are not allowed to use it. Coronavirus has also caused them to cancel their annual summer show. For the graduates, 2020 will be a memorable year for all the wrong reasons.
New director, Viviana Durante, has risen to the challenge by commissioning three top choreographers to work with students, now scattered across the globe, to create online works for each year group as a substitute performance.
For the first years, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa created Memorias del Dorado. Well suited to the diverse ethnicity of the students it opens on a dancer dressed in traditional kimono and socially distanced to a Japanese home where he studies a book of Pre-Colombian art.
The images come to life in a gallery of videos on the walls, floor and into the book itself, becoming a composite work of art that constantly changes. In imaginative ways faces are framed and combined with gestures creating a subtle range of emotions. The neutral tones morph into technicolour as the images are backgrounded by gardens and parks and the single book multiplies into two stacks to balance on. The final mosaic of pictures is a quality moment of beautiful dancer bodies.
The second years worked to two contrasting melodies in Didy Veldman’s Not so Strictly. To an upbeat foxtrot using a simple step pattern, each dancer is multiplied into a chorus line and empty rooms, car parks, pavements and lawns step in to provide a setting. Moving on to Khachaturian’s grand waltz and brilliant editing takes centre stage as dancers appear, disappear and multiply. Despite the often confined workspaces, they actually manage real dance, turning and leaping in imaginative ways and finally inviting in family and pets in cosy togetherness.
In Andrew McNicol’s Gradus, the writing was on the hands. The choreography, contemporary ballet was performed in parks and gardens, the third-year students managing a professional finish despite the unconventional surfaces. The camera work again threatened to steal the show, splitting images in kaleidoscopic ways. The voice-overs were poignant: “Dance is dreaming with your whole body” and sadly, “My greatest wish is to see all my peers together one last time.” The short, socially distanced duet made possible by clever choreography and filming, was a treat and the final series of frames raised the video quality to fine art.
There were post production credits for BalletBoyz and Manilla Production Ltd and I suspect the very professional editing of Veldman’s and McNicol’s videos was their work. This lockdown may have an unexpected spin-off in developing the art of dance filming. An uncertain future lies ahead, and they had a less than satisfactory end to their student days, but the resourcefulness and imagination shown here should stand them in good stead.
English National Ballet School’s Summer Performance 2020 is presently available on Vimeo.