Opera Holland Park, London
June 28, 2018
The ‘big’ show comes at The Royal Opera House in a few days, but The Royal Ballet School performances at the outdoor Opera Holland Park give an early chance to catch this year’s graduating students on stage and a chance to glimpse some of the ballet stars of the future.
This, largely Upper School performance, opened with the 3rd years in Ashley Page’s Larina Waltz. Rather uncharacteristic of his work, it’s a bright, gala-style affair for five couples, full of classical steps and with the women in tutus. It’s also full of unusual changes of direction and partnering, though. Despite a couple of early slips (the stage did seem a tad slick), the young dancers performed admirably.
Next up, the premiere of Andrew McNicol’s Sea Interludes, inspired by Benjamin Britten’s emotive ‘Sea Interludes’ from his opera Peter Grimes, gave the stage to the 1st years. McNicol’s handling of the large cast is impressive. With the women in blue and the men in white, one big ensemble section in particular evokes very well indeed the foaming waves of the sea. There is some pleasing duet work but men get the best of the choreography, a section for three being full of lingering arabesques and arms pushing away.
Robert Binet, choreographic apprentice with The Royal Ballet in 2012-13, created the 9-minute duet, Self & Soul, for The Erik Bruhn Prize in 2016, it subsequently being taken into The National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire. Set to music by A Winged Victory for the Sullen, it’s an attempt to translate excerpts from Noa Sadka’s book Talking Parts into movement. That book consists of fragments from her diaries. Binet is known for his seeing dancers as real people and 3rd-year students Rebecca Blenkinsop and Harris Bell were certainly that as they explored a relationship that while not overly romantic or platonic, loving or argumentative, was certainly honest.
Many dancers, even greatly experienced ones, can struggle with the ballon and fast footwork required by Bournonville, so it was no surprise that the Act III Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli didn’t quite scale the heights. Eric Pinto Cata stood out for his neat batterie and turns. The upbeat dance is very jolly though, and the huge smiles suggested all were having a great time, but it does go on rather.
The choreographically very mixed first half closed with excerpts from Nacho Duato’s full-length Multiplicity, forms of silence and emptiness, inspired by the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach. Right from the composer (danced by the elegant Simon Regourd) conducting the 2nd and 3rd-year dancers, who are seen as notes or instruments, it was very well performed. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since while Multiplicity is a contemporary work, Duato’s choreography is firmly rooted in classical ballet.
After the interval, it was out and out classicism with Aurora’s Wedding, Act III of The Sleeping Beauty, restaged by Sir Anthony Dowell and featuring around 40 dancers from all three Upper School years, plus, in a move that worked rather well, White Lodge students Katie Robertson and Leo Godfrey as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.
As it should be, the highlight was the elegant grand pas de deux between Aurora and her prince, danced by Yu Hang and Harrison Lee. Right from an early controlled developpé then backbend, Yu glittered. Lee is everything she could want in a prince, his fast ménage, full of long, lean leaps, especially impressive.
Of the variations, I was most impressed with the nicely skittish Yu Kurihara as the Songbird Fairy; and especially Katharina Nikelski as the Fairy of the Golden Vine, who danced very clearly, with great determination and a real glint in her eye. Best of the divertissements was the Bluebird pas de deux, in which Taisuke Nakao showed wonderful elevation and largely neat batterie. The diverts also included the revival of Ninette de Valois’ Three Ivans, a dance in similar vein to the Russian Dance in The Nutcracker. It’s a chance for three of the men to let fly, which they did with great gusto.
All round, it was a fine evening (helped along by near perfect weather), with excellent big jumps and turns everywhere, although there’s still room here and there for improvement on some of the finer detail and partnering. I certainly look forward to seeing the dancers again on Sunday July 8 at the Royal Opera House.