Dynamism and energy from Ballet Central

Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
May 16, 2022

This year’s Ballet Central programme sees the company extended to embrace no fewer than 41 dancers from the Central School of Ballet. It features what are effectively three new works (one is described as a ‘reimagining’) by Ashley Page, Mthuthuzeli November and Mikaela Polley, alongside Cathy Marston’s Moving, Still, itself only two years old, having been originally made for the Ballet Junior de Genève in 2020.

With the exception of Marston’s, all the pieces are essentially ensemble numbers, the stage frequently filled with dancers. As one might expect, the dance fits the students like a glove. The choreography may often be busy and fast-paced, but they rise to it with energy levels that need to be seen to be believed.

The highlight of the programme is undoubtedly Marston’s Moving, Still. I can’t help feeling that it’s no coincidence that it’s the one work that is underwritten by a very meaningful theme, that takes its time, and that really allows the audience to see individuals at length in solos and duets.

Izzie Wood and Andrea Azzari in Moving, Still by Cathy Martson
Photo ASH

Performed to music by Hans Abrahamsen and arrangements of traditional Danish music by Danish String Quartet, the work was inspired by Marston’s reactions to the first Covid lockdown and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

The lead couples were superb, loading every movement, every look, with meaning. A rectangle of light on the floor marks a room. Issie Wood dances, reaches, holds her head in her hands, everything coming from deep within. There is a sense of ire and frustration. When Andrea Azzari appears, he is as a ghost. He supports and holds, yet there is no eye contact. It’s as though he is there, in her mind and thoughts perhaps, but not physically. Another duet between Mia Jones and Kahlan Lee is equally meaningful with more a sense of yearning. Other couples echo the leads but equally seem to be other characters from the past, until Wood and Azzari return, the mood changing to one of reconciliation with events.

Ashley Page’s Twice Removed,
the opening work of Ballet Central’s 2022 programme
Photo ASH

Ashley Page’s Twice Removed, which opened the evening, is a direct, pure-dance response to John Adams’ Son of a Chamber Symphony. This version has been reimagined from a piece created by the choreographer to the same score in 2015, enlarging the cast along the way. While some of the original choreography has been adapted, it is largely new.

While clearly classically-rooted, Page takes that and channels that into a contemporary form with a very modern-day energy. While Adams’ score is not exactly listener friendly on its own, it works a treat with the choreography. The dance in the first movement, like the music, nervously then confidently darts all over the place. It’s sort of organised chaos. There’s so much to see that its sometimes difficult to absorb all that’s going on. Dancers come and go at speed, the section at its best in the short, sharp pas de deux that all featured super partnering and interesting lifts.

After a pause for breath in the more harmonious second movement, the opening of the third is especially thrilling. It feels like the six women who appear have been magicked into a fast car. Soon everyone is joining in. It’s a high-speed joyride to the end.

Ballet Central in Mthuthuzeli November’s Sunset in Cape Town
Photo ASH

Inspired by sunset drives to the beach with friends, although the khaki outfits reminded me more of my trips into the bush at the other end of the country, Sunset in Cape Town is another demonstration of the innovative and wide-ranging choreographic voice of Mthuthuzeli November. The dancers chant, sway and clap as individuals break out of the pulsing crowd in a piece that’s full of the rhythms of his South African homeland.

Rounding off the show, Mikaela Polley’s Unbound, to music by John Metcalfe, reflects the spirit and freedom felt by all dancers as they were able to come together and work together once more. I’m not entirely convinced the switch from contemporary to classical half way through is comfortable, but it’s certainly bright and upbeat, and is a celebration of the dynamism of the company and its young dancers. Yuko Ojima stood out among the classical performers in particular.

Ballet Central continues on tour to July 14, 2022. Visit www.balletcentral.co.uk for dates, venues and booking links.