Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham
February 8, 2019
It’s not every day you get the chance to see the first performance by a new ballet company but that’s precisely what happened last week at Birmingham’s Elmhurst Ballet school, the associate school of Birmingham Royal Ballet, where Elmhurst Ballet Company has now officially become the student company.
The new company has similar aims to other school companies such as Ballet Central in that, in their own words, it aims to bridge the gap “between school and professional life, equipping students with the necessary skills and attributes to secure employment with world class dance companies.” The value of that cannot be overstated and emphasises that the dancers are not just students being educated but are professionals, doing the job at the very highest level, learning and improving all the time.
These may seem lofty messages to live up to but the school and its confident students have shown this to be already very much the case. In their careers as dancers these students will lead professional lives founded on change and personal development, learning new works and interacting always with new people and ideas. A strong company ethos has always been in evidence at Elmhurst, unspoken but very much felt. The formation of the Elmhurst Ballet Company not only takes that to another level but says it out loud for the first time.
The evening’s performance made it clear right from the start that the entire company know very much what they’re about. The first half of Origins was sprinkled with favourites all subtly chosen to display the company’s versatility. There was the balcony scene from Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, the clog dance from David Bintley’s Hobson’s Choice (making a long overdue return to Birmingham Royal Ballet in the summer), ‘Sugar Rum Cherry’ to Duke Ellington from Bintley’s Nutcracker Sweeties, excerpts from Swan Lake Act Two, and finally Wayne McGregor’s modern and very athletic Entity, taught by McGregor himself.
The first half may have taken us through comparatively familiar territory but after the break came a particular delight in the form of excerpts from a classical standard bearer not seen that often these days, Paquita, music by Minkus, choreography by the legendary Petipa. A sneaky voice tells me this is because the classical tradition must always be the most telling showcase for the ballet dancer, no matter how sophisticated any modern piece may be.
The aura of total performance was very much on view here, the dancers composed and smiling serenely as if to say these almost impossible steps are nothing to us, we take this in our stride. The result was sheer theatrical perfection and the audience recognised and responded to this with applause and warm cheers.
Part of the Elmhurst ethos is also that students should produce their own work, tour and take ballet out into the community. This first year sees Elmhurst Ballet Company perform only at the school and at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre at London’s Sadler’s Wells, but the scope to extend this is obvious. With mixed repertory like that in Origins, I’m sure that a tour of small or midscale venues, especially around the Midlands, would be very popular. Bring it on!
A truly marvellous evening and a much-welcomed debut for this exciting new company.
Elmhurst Ballet Company are at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre at Sadler’s Wells, London on February 15, 2019. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details.