Ballet Nights 002

Lanterns Studio Theatre, London
October 27, 2023

Again compèred by artistic director Jamiel Devernay-Laurence, Ballet Nights’ second programme at the intimate Lanterns Studio Theatre in London’s Docklands was, if anything, even better than the opening edition at the end of September. It was another fine evening of dance up close and personal, if anything, even better than Ballet Nights 001. It was also one where almost everything left a big imprint in the memory; for all the right reasons.

As in all three of the autumn’s Ballet Nights, each half opened with a piano recital by Viktor Erik Emanuel. First came the rather melancholic Ballade No. 4 in F Minor by Frédéric Chopin, then after the interval, the rather brighter, playful, foamy and colourful L’isle joyeuse by Claude Debussy.

Musa Motha in Depth of Healing
Photo Deborah Jaffe

First of the dance pieces, Depth of Healing, choreographed and performed by Musa Motha to music by Morena Sefatsa and Brownlee Dlulane. If it has a message, it’s about being yourself and not being afraid to be yourself. The opening floor-based section is full of smooth rolling, twisting movement but also suggests vulnerability and uncertainty. But that feeling melts away as, now standing on his one leg, he discovers what is possible in a graceful dance featuring many jumps and turns. It was quite inspiring.

It was a pleasure to revisit a Of Silence by Andrew McNicol, even if just a pas de deux. Although non-narrative, the excellent Winnie Dias and James Stephens gave hints of drama and emotion in a dance of support for each other.

Winnie Dias and James Stephens in Of Silence by Andrew McNicol
Photo Deborah Jaffe

McNicol Ballet Collective has just announced a brand-new creative residency programme, Compositions & Configurations, offering paid opportunities for composers and choreographers to experiment together in a studio setting at DanceEast, with the Collective’s professional dancers, before embarking on a formal creative process. Following the residency, the plan is to commission at least one choreographer and composer to further develop their work and present it as part of the company’s 2024/2025 season

Choreographer Bella Lewitzky may be relatively unknown in Britain, but the American modern dance pioneer and outspoken champion of artistic freedom, who died in 2004, is noted in US for her technically challenging dances of precise shapes and changing formations.

There was plenty of both in the two movements of her Meta 4 (the title refers to the Greek prefix for ‘change’ or ‘beyond’ as in ‘metamorphosis’) danced by Luke Ahmet, Pierre Tappon, Abigail Attard Montalto, Jenny Hayes of Yorke Dance Project. The two movements are sort of variations on a theme (the unperformed two similarly). Like Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s score for string quartet, the dance has sweep and lyricism, along with the occasional touch of whimsy, especially in one or two unusual lifts and the way fast pattering feet match the pizzicato of the music.

Ryoichi Hirano and Constance Devernay-Laurence
in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations
Photo Deborah Jaffe

A recent injury suffered by Steven McRae meant that his planned new work had to be postponed. However, in its place were the ever-popular ‘Stoptime Rag’ and ‘Bethena Waltz’ from Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations. I’m sure it helped being so close but I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen so much personality injected into it as did the stars and stripes-clad Constance Devernay-Laurence and Ryoichi Hirano.

Devernay-Laurence returned after the break in Heisei 9, a new short solo created by Jordan James Bridge. Neo-classical in style and on pointe, it packs the steps in with a lot of fast footwork, big extensions and twisting of the hips. The title is Japanese for 1997 and the work draws on that year’s PlayStation role-playing video game, Final Fantasy VII, including using Nobuo Uematsu’s piano soundtrack, that the choreographer admits was a huge part of his childhood. That connection is far from obvious but it really doesn’t matter. It’s another fine piece of choreography by the fast-rising dance-maker.

Constance Devernay-Laurence in Heisei 9 by Jordan James Bridge
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Utopia (The Way Inside) is concerned very much with the personal story of its choreographer and performer, Yasser D’Oquendo. The movement, a lot o spinning, turning and rolling, appears to connect very much with his self. It’s clearly very personal and seems to come from deep inside. In the first half in particular there’s a lot of looking at, as if reaching back to those close left behind in Cuba

Yasser D’Oquendo in Utopia (The Way Is Inside)
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Ballet Nights II closed with two very classy works. First, an excerpt from In The Absence by Pett | Clausen-Knight, a duet of intensely technical physicality. The piece has a strong sense of its two characters trying to find a way. The complex choreography suggests a couple who fears and emotions cause them to struggle to let go, yet who simultaneously want to move on. The depth of feeling conveyed and the partnering of James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight was outstanding.

Finally, back to the UK premiere of David Dawson’s Metamorphosis 1. Danced to the first part of Philip Glass’ five-part solo piano composition, Metamorphosis, it’s as hypnotic as the music, following it in building in intensity and complexity.

It’s introspective but slowly becomes more intricate. Metamorphosis 1 leaves nowhere to hide, not that Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw needed it. In the big void that is Lanterns, seemed to float in space. Two perfect beacons of white in the surrounding darkness. Moments of stillness turn suddenly into gorgeous arcs of movement. Arabesques melt. Faultless, dead lifts that were made to look easy. It’s modern, yet still utterly classical and, despite being non-narrative, connects deeply.

It was riveting. Utterly beautiful. A fine end to a fine evening.

Ballet Nights 003 is on November 24 & 25, 2003. For programme details and tickets, click here.