Ballet Central 2019 finishes on an exuberant high

Bloomsbury Theatre, London
July 20, 2019

David Mead

Ballet Central, the touring company of Central School Of Ballet, brought their 2019 season to a close with a varied evening; a real pot-pourri of styles from Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, through Jasmin Vardimon, before closing with Christopher Marney’s bright and colourful Carousel Dances.

There has been quite an upsurge interest in MacMillan’s less often performed short ballets recently. In 2018, Central School performed excerpts from his Valley of Shadows, and this year it was the turn of House of Birds.

Made in 1955, it’s based on the Grimm Brothers’ Jorinda and Joringel, the rather macabre story of an evil Bird Woman who snares young children and transforms them into birds. In MacMillan’s ballet, she takes a young girl, intent on turning her into another of her caged birds. But, when her lover rescues her, the witch is overcome, her spell is broken, and her captured birds peck her to death (a gruesome scene we were spared).

Ballet Central in Kenneth MacMillan's House of BirdsPhoto ASH
Ballet Central in Kenneth MacMillan’s House of Birds
Photo ASH

The lyrical dance of the young couple, contrasts sharply with the almost automaton-like movement of the Bird Woman. As the lovers, Natusuho Matsumoto and Timothy Leckie gave a nice sense of young love, she melting into his arms. The couple also coped well with the tricky lifts that MacMillan was already starting to slip into his work. I would have preferred a little more menace from Nell Maude as the Bird Woman, although the context of excerpts admittedly makes that difficult to convey.

Alexander Fadayiro in Dying Swan by Calvin RichardsonPhoto ASH
Alexander Fadayiro in Dying Swan
by Calvin Richardson
Photo ASH

There have been more versions of Dying Swan than I care to think about. Calvin Richardson’s seductive contemporary version, danced by Alexander Fadayiro, full of super isolations, made for one of the more interesting takes on the Saint-Saens score. Fadayiro was a proud, strong beast, right to the end.

Originally created for the National Youth Dance Company in 2013, Jasmin Vardimon’s (in between) considers the flux between the force of the group and the power of the individual. The cut down version (17 minutes from the original 25) loses none of its message, including the very obvious references to the relationship between humans and the natural world

It opens with a memorable image: the whole case doing headstands. As their arms gently move, the suggestion is of trees, whose roots are very much alive. In fact, the dancers are balanced against tree stumps, which are later stood on, everyone swaying gently in the breeze. The work relies very much on the power of the ensemble. There is no partnering, and almost no jumps. Instead, it’s a dance about the relationship with the earth. The dancers glide and roll on the floor as if inextricably attached to it. The piece harnessed the energy of the Ballet Central dancers perfectly. Their timing and audible use of breath was outstanding.

Back to classical ballet and another rarely seen work, Frederick Ashton’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. Created in 1947 to Maurice Ravel’s luscious score, it’s a rose-tinted, romantic ballet that captures the yearning for glamour felt in the post-war austerity. It was very pleasant but, while the steps were all there, all neatly done, I longed for more sense of the Ashton style that is so important to the ballet: the emphasis on the upper body, épaulement, and lyrical fluidity.

Ballet Central in Jasmin Vardimon's (in between)Photo ASH
Ballet Central in Jasmin Vardimon’s (in between)
Photo ASH

Finales do not come much more colourful than Christopher Marney’s Carousel Dances, seen previously on Ballet Central’s 2014 tour.

Boy meets girl in a circus and falls in love. Marney’s interpretation of Agnes de Mille’s ballet from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel really is as straightforward as that. The choreography is anything but simple, though. Marney took his dancers to workshops at the National Centre for Circus Arts and uses the setting to pull in any number of circus tricks. There’s a unicycle, use of circus poles, tumbling, a guy with a snake (a shame it couldn’t look even remotely alive, though!) and much more. If anything, at times there is too much. But on the other hand, it does serve to emphasise the central pas de deux, when things calm down, and where Marney is at his best.

Matsumoto as the slightly naïve Louise and the strong Fadayiro as the Barker Boy made a fine couple. The chemistry was there for all to see, as was the trust in the lifts, and in one catch by Fadayiro after Matsumoto had fair sprinted across the stage before leaping into his arms without even remotely breaking stride. My only slight question mark concerns her swinging between unwilling to all smiles in an instant but maybe that’s what happens when you are that mixed up emotionally.

And all that to the overture and ballet music from Richard Rogers’ glorious score. I hummed it all the way back to the station, and it was still in my head the next morning.

It was quite a high on which to finish the show, the tour, and indeed the journey of the young Central School dancers, who earlier in the day had their graduation ceremony. I understand there were quite a lot of tears at various times. But now these youngsters move on, to bigger stages, as the next step in their dance journey begins. Central School will be moving on soon too, to their sparkling new studios in Paris Gardens on London’s South Bank.