Ballet Central students impress in a strong and varied evening

Shaw Theatre, London
June 3, 2017

David Mead

The first programme by Ballet Central (the touring company of the final year students of Central School of Ballet) under newly appointed artistic director Christopher Marney is a real treat; a mix of classics and work by new and noted choreographers, meatier excerpts than in previous years, rounded off with an excellent performance of Act II of Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling – and all very well danced indeed.

Opening with a fresh look on the well-known, Jenna Lee’s take on the ballroom scene from Romeo and Juliet is nicely crafted. Amy McEntee was delightful as Juliet to Craig McFarlane’s Romeo, while Álvaro Olmedo and Adam Davies showed bags of personality as they impressed with their humour and joie de vivre as Mercutio and Benvolio. I didn’t find it particularly dramatic, however, although taking it out of context probably didn’t help.

Amy McEntee and Craig McFarlane in Romeo and JulietPhoto Bill Cooper
Amy McEntee and Craig McFarlane in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Bill Cooper

A new piece by Christopher Bruce, Mya, is a strange affair that left me a bit nonplussed. A trio to Avro Pärt’s much-overused Spiegel im Spiegel, it features three dancers (here Brittanie Dillon, Charlotte Peers and Liam Lindsay) in head to toe fabric suits; think giant, stretchy, pillowcases. The programme gave no clues as to inspiration or meaning, although the way a couple of the dancers’ arms struggle free, like a butterfly fighting its way out of a chrysalis, sort of hints at a struggle for freedom.

Dipping into the classics, a few snatches from Act I of La Bayadère were danced stylishly. The D’jampee dance was suitably colourful and alluring while Kanon Kihara (Nikiya) and Jaume Ruiz (Solor) showed nice phrasing in the pas de deux.

Liam Scarlett has come a long way since he made Indigo Children for Ballet Black back in 2008. Danced to a not terribly well edited collage of Philip Glass music, it’s a well-constructed, pleasant rather than compelling, contemporary classical affair that includes much intricate partnering and many elegant lines. McEntee and McFarlane were particularly impressive in the opening duet.

Dracula, here with Matthew Morrell as Dracula and Adam Davies as HarkerPhoto Bill Cooper
Dracula here with Matthew Morrell as Dracula and Adam Davies as Harker
Photo Bill Cooper

The strongest performances of the first half came in that scene from Act I of Michael Pink’s Dracula in which Johnathan Harker is seduced by the vampire ladies in the Count’s castle. It’s a cracking production and Olmedo gave a truly powerful and dramatic performance as Harker, rescued from a savaging at the hands of the vixens (Sophie Hull, Rowan Parker and Dillon) by the tall and wiry Michael Morrell as Dracula, only to find the latter has his own designs on him. Their duet was highly charged.

After the break, the dancers treated everyone to a sparkling performance of Act II of Highland Fling, Matthew Bourne’s “romantic wee ballet;” a sideways and occasionally disturbing take on La Sylphide, Led by Davies as the drunken Glaswegian and Dillon as the Lead Sylph, the young cast captured the spirit and wicked humour of the piece perfectly. The early cavorting of the fairies was a delight, while their feelings when James stole one of the number away, and then killed her after cutting off her wings with a pair of garden shears, was plain for all to see.

Brittanie Dillon and dancers of Ballet Central in Highland FlingPhoto Bill Cooper
Brittanie Dillon and dancers of Ballet Central in Highland Fling
Photo Bill Cooper

Last year, Ballet Central established a new partnership with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, with Dillon and fellow-student Stephen Murray joining Bourne’s company as student associates for The Red Shoes.

More good news for Ballet Central is that plans are well-advanced for the Central School of Ballet to move to Paris Gardens on London’s South Bank during the 2018-9 academic year. The new building will have three times more space than the present Herbal Hill premises, including seven studios and a studio theatre. Campaigning is now underway to fund the final stages of the development.

Ballet Central continue on tour. Visit for dates and venues.