Royal Opera House, London
July 9, 2017
The Royal Ballet School’s Grand Défilé is such a joyous celebration of dance, youth and hope that you wish you could seal it in a bottle, to open on those gloomy days when the world’s troubles crowd in. Rank after rank of young students get their brief moment of glory, each group brimming with eagerness to show, in short sequences, what they have achieved. Then comes a shift of gear as the Upper School takes the stage. Harrison Lee executed a brilliant pirouette, with a smile to match, lit the touch-paper and it was a headlong dash to the finish.
The Royal Ballet School, now under the directorship of Christopher Powney, has the challenge of balancing tradition with innovation while preparing students for the current professional world. That balance was at times unsure in the mix of works from the repertoire and new additions.
Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto is a proven success for school shows, offering fine opportunities for soloists and corps in a thoroughly enjoyable work. In the lyrical Second Movement, Yu Hang, ably partnered by Nicholas Landon, filled the space with quiet authority, her exquisite legs and feet finding each of MacMillan’s iconic modern lines; while in the First Movement, Sae Maeda and Harrison Lee were in their element, treating us to technical brilliance delivered with insouciance.
Another good choice was Frederick Ashton’s Pas de Quatre from Swan Lake. Yu Kuirhara and Amelia Townsend delivered their solos with great style and Lee, joined by Eli Grushka, scored with expert timing in the male duet.
It is always a treat to see choreography by alumni, Jonathan Watkins. Onwards, written for the First Years, is a confident display of neo-classical work but the lighting, that tended to masked much of the action was probably not a good idea at a school show. However, I expect the very brief stage rehearsal time did little to help.
Ohad Naharin’s, very popular Echad Mi Yodea, was given a spirited performance. It is a formidable work, but as the only large scale contemporary work on the bill it has limited dance content and does not give the dancers much chance to show their skill. This was not the case in Didy Veldman’s duet See Blue Through where Katherina Nikelski and Harris Bell dealt confidently with the complex relationship and partnering, culminating in an amusing sharing of stretchy T-shirts.
The opening Les Sylphides struggled to find the line between period and precious. The hairstyles, glued over the ears and circled by a ring of roses, managed to make even these lovely young dancers look frumpy. Nadia Mullova-Barley and Haoliang Feng danced a careful pas de deux, but it was only Maeda who seemed to find Fokine’s spirit in a joyful Mazurka.
Years 10 & 11 gave a jaunty edge to Erik Bruhn’s Here We Come, set to Morton Gould’s American marches with Daichi Ikarashi showing particularly good form. Written in 1978 when men were fighting for a fair share of the ballet stage, it made interesting viewing but in a post BalletBoyz age maybe they could have tackled something more contemporary? August Bournonville’s The Conservatory (better known as Conservatoire), also period (1849), also Danish, seemed, strangely, more relevant. It is fiendishly difficult and was given an excellent showing with crisp, clean batterie, buoyant jumps and bags of charm.
Hans van Manen, proudly sporting his newly acquired Commandeur des Arts et Lettres award, was in the audience while on stage Jerome Barnes, Joshua Junker and Augustus Payne had the thrill of performing his Solo. Fiercely competitive, and bubbling with showmanship, it was one of the highlights of a satisfying afternoon where, whatever the repertoire choices and production values, the students triumphed.