Pirates and Sylphs with Ballet Central

The Core at Corby Cube
June 30, 2021

This is Christopher Marney’s last tour as artistic director of Ballet Central, the final year touring company of Central School of Ballet before he leaves to explore some freelance choreographic opportunities. His welcome preference to present fewer but longer works or excerpts continues with an enjoyable triple-bill.

The undoubted highlight at the extremely pleasant and welcoming Core at Corby Cube (from outside, it really does look like a cube) came after the interval with a superb performance of the Act II of that ‘romantic wee ballet’, Highland Fling, Matthew Bourne’s sideways and occasionally disturbing take on La Sylphide.

In his storytelling, Bourne has always put acting on a par with the dancing. Jake Tang (who led in all three pieces) wandered around nicely dazed as the drunken, kilted Glaswegian who finds himself transported from the streets of the city to a Highland glade full of winged sylphs, hanging his jacket on the arm of one as he steps over them, seeing them but not seeing them, as it were.

jigsaw by Charlotte Edmonds
(pictured: Brandon Brereton, Sakura Sato)
Photo Amber Hunt

Led by Olivia Johnstone, the sylphs early cavorting had just the right, ever so slightly sinister feel. That was slightly creepy but when Tang stole her away, their mood turned decidedly darker. The contorted movement and heavy breathing was all really well done, but what impressed as much was that you could see each as an individual, each playing their part to the full.

There’s no poisoned scarf, but who needs one when you have a pair of garden shears to hand that can do even more gruesome damage. The sight of Johnstone now de-winged and blood-soaked, hobbling around trying to match the dance of her sisters, shocked to just the right pitch. Her friends do get their own back, however.

The one new work of the tour is Charlotte Edmonds’ jigsaw, a collaboration with the dancers to an original score by Philip Feeney, who has played live on every Ballet Central tour since the company’s launch 37 years ago.

The work reflects the conditions under which the creative process began. Although classical-based, the choreography has a modern edginess. It’s also mostly individual and isolated. Even in the main duet (Tang and Annabelle Hough) which is also largely danced apart, it feels very fragmented, even in the latter stages when there are hints of warmth and coming together.

Ballet Central’s Le Corsaire
Photo Amber Hunt

This year’s programme opens with Act I of Le Corsaire. It’s easy to see why Marney went for it. There is a lot of dancing, with plenty of opportunity for solos and pas de deux, and a lot of characters. It did feel that there was little substance behind it, although when presented as just Act I, that the express train of a plot rather gets lost barely matters. Let’s face it, the whole ballet, with its multiple locations, pirates, mutiny, slave trading, love story, kidnapping (Medora, twice), poisoned rose, dream sequence (of course) and ultimate shipwreck, it is a bit hard to keep up with, even at the best of times.

Tang could perhaps have been a little more forceful but otherwise carried the role of pirate leader Conrad well. As Medora, Mayuko Suzuki showed pleasing lines and great extensions. They made a fine pair.

As Conrad’s sidekick, Ali, Hayata Hoshino moved effortlessly through his leaps and turns, including in the big pas de trois with Conrad and Medora. Elsewhere, ensemble danced with all the colour and gusto that the ballet demands.

There was the odd slip but that didn’t detract from the vibrant dance. Marney told me afterwards that the students only returned to the studio in March, and to pas de deux work in May, although the partnering was very good throughout.

It was a fine and very agreeable evening. Given the continuing uncertainties, it is in many ways remarkable that the tour is happening at all, let alone one to eleven venues in just five weeks. Well done, Ballet Central!

Ballet Central continues on tour to July 21, 2021. Visit www.balletcentral.co.uk for dates, venues and booking links.