Christopher Gable’s Cinderella highlights Ballet Central

The Egg at the Theatre Royal, Bath
May 19, 2018

David Mead

Under artistic director Christopher Marney, Ballet Central has taken to presenting at least a couple of longer excerpts of well-known works in its annual tour. That’s good for the students and for audiences, both getting their chance to get their teeth into something a bit meatier than a quick-fire programme of short tasters. 2017 was good, but this year, Marney has excelled in a programme that has gems wherever you look with dance from Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Gable, Wayne McGregor, Matthew Bourne and a new piece from Jenna Lee. Not a bad list!

It’s Lee’s Black Swan that gets things underway, a twist on the classic inspired in part by the psychological film about love, hatred and breakdown by Darren Aronofsky that has Natalie Portman in the lead role. Lee’s ballet includes a performance by the Black Swan in a reconstructed Act III of Swan Lake mixed with dramatic ideas from the film. In the lead role, Ayca Anil was certainly seductive and alluring. When she first looked at Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis’ Prince, her eyes quite clearly said, “You’re mine.” She might have added, ‘whether you like it or not’. What I didn’t get was any sense of him being tormented or somehow drugged by her presence. All told, quite effective, though, and I suspect could have been even more so given another fifteen minutes to develop further one or tqo idea.

Ayca Anil and Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis in Jenna Lee's Black SwanPhoto Bill Cooper
Ayca Anil and Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis in Jenna Lee’s Black Swan
Photo Bill Cooper

With its post-classical emphasis, Wayne McGregor’s FAR is probably more suited to young ballet dancers not familiar with performing his style that many of his works. The excerpt danced by Ballet Central had none of McGregor’s usual deformations of line but and as beautiful as it was, disappointingly also lacked the dynamic clarity one expects to see in his choreography.

The Holocaust has provided inspiration for artists of all genres and this year’s Ballet Central tour includes an excerpt from Kenneth MacMillan’s rarely-seen 1983 work, Valley of Shadows, inspired by Georgio Bassani’s haunting novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. So rarely seen, in fact, that it was only performed three times at Covent Garden.

MacMillan’s ballet deals with the fate of an Italian Jewish family under fascism and the horrors of the death camps. Rather than the latter, the excerpt danced by Ballet Central sees four young people playing in the family garden. It really doesn’t work out of context. While the very innocent feel is appropriate (the youngsters at this point had little knowledge of what was happening to their elders), there was also no sense of approaching menace or of things to come.

Valley of Shadows by Kenneth MacMillan(dancers pictured: Scot Baldie, Ayca Anil, Jamie Wills, Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis)Photo Bill Cooper
Valley of Shadows by Kenneth MacMillan
(dancers pictured: Scot Baldie, Ayca Anil, Jamie Wills, Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis)
Photo Bill Cooper

After last year’s hugely successful Act II of Highland Fling, this year, Marney turns to Matthew Bourne again, but this time something rather more up to date: the Fairies Prologue from Sleeping Beauty. Led by Aitor Viscarolasaga Lopez ad Count Lilac, all six dancers performed with élan and just the right level of comedy and campness. I loved the spiky effervescence of Corina Clark’s Hibernia and Harris Beattie’s Tantrum.

Is it really 25 years since the world first saw Christopher Gable’s Cinderella? Yes, it is, although it’s a ballet sadly unlikely to be seen in full again given that the sets have been destroyed and Northern Ballet now has a new production by David Nixon. Despite its orchestration, Philip Feeney’s score (it was his first full-length ballet) sounds good for just solo piano, one reason why the two Act III pas de deux have survived. With Feeney live on the keyboard, Ballet Central this year gave us a rare treat: 25 minutes of scenes from across the work. Better still, it still felt like Gable’s ballet.

Olivia van Niekerk as Cinderella by Christopher GablePhoto ASH
Olivia van Niekerk as Cinderella
Photo ASH

Right from the innocence of the young people harvesting apples off, the memories flooded back. Olivia Van Niekerk was delightful in the lead role, especially in the touching relationship with the ghost of her mother and the beautifully and sensitively danced pas de deux with her Prince, Jamie Wills, even if I didn’t reach the sense of abandon that I remember from years past. Mind you, on the tiny Egg stage, that was probably never going to happen. Time stood still as the piece flew past. Oh to have the whole ballet back again.

Like Valley of Shadows, Cinderella gives the young dancers a proper idea of what it is to be a dancer-actor, to bring out the characters of the people they are portraying, to take dance beyond technique; something Gable would have approved of wholeheartedly. In both works, the students had the advantage of being coached by original cast members: Alessandra Ferri and Guy Niblett for Valley of Shadows, and Jayne Regan for Cinderella.

The whole afternoon was remarkable in one other way. The previous week, the company’s van had been stolen in London, complete with costumes, shoes, sets, backcloths, barres, piano and so on. Fortunately, the costumes turned up in an East London lock-up, but the rest have gone for ever, it seems. The ballet world pulled together, though, with The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures all loaning items. Chris Marney told me that literally everyone spent several days sewing and getting everything ready for the Bath dates. Great determination. And a great show.