Lantern’s Studio Theatre, London
November 24, 2023
The Ballet Nights formula was devised in 2021 to, quite literally, bring dance closer to the audience but with elements of an opera house repertoire. It undoubtedly succeeds in doing that, although there are pros and cons to the approach.
It further concentrates the obsession with technique that has dogged ballet for a long time and makes for a pressured stage. There really is no hiding place for the dancers. It also suits abstract dance more than ripped chunks of classical works that are further isolated form their origins by the lack of lighting and set. Every breath is audible and it is impossible to totally hide the effort, thereby robbing dance of the artistic element of illusion that it relies upon for effect.
As with its first two editions, Ballet Nights 003 opened with the glorious tones of the Yamaha grand as resident pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel played Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor. The bare, hard acoustic enabled the full resonance to be appreciated, particularly in the left hand harmonics. I did find the casually dressed Emanual’s white sports shoes something of a distraction, though.
On to the dance, kicked off by Ivana Bueno from English National Ballet and the Medora Variation from Le Corsaire. The performance was well executed with the requisite panache, but the lavishness of the costume served to underline the bareness of the setting.
Next up, Rambert-trained freelancer Felicity Chadwick performed what turned out to be the most successful piece in the first half: Joshua Junker’s 324a. Bach’s music always seems to fit contemporary dance like a glove and this was one of the rare occasions where a very personal inspiration transmitted something to the audience. The movement vocabulary was wide-ranging and varied and the empty floor gave plenty of scope for travel and expansive ports de bras.
Wind was adapted by the late Robert Cohan for Laurel Dalley Smith of the Yorke Dance Project. It is thoroughly Graham. Even with the disadvantage of a black costume, a black floor and under-lighting, it was possible to see the roots of the technique with contractions and emphasis on pushing into the floor. Dancing in silence is less comfortable and again tends to leave one with the impression of effort rather than a body working against the elements.
Heisei 9 by Jordan James Bridge brought us back to the piano and music by Nobuo Uematsu, a Japanese video game music composer. The piece is apparently based upon a video game called Square Enix, although I am unqualified to comment on how faithful it was to the source. Much was made in compère Jamiel Deverney-Laurance’s introduction of Stevie Stewart’s costume design, which made the rather dull pink leotard something of a let down. The choreography didn’t add much either inspite of the efforts of dancer Constance Devernay-Laurence.
The first half was brought to a close by something much more familiar, William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, here danced by Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw. Thom Willems’ and Leslie Stuck’s score is as pleasurable to hear as it was in 1987 and the choreography feels as fresh too. It is not an easy piece to pull off but Lee and Haw performed with suitable aplomb and looked as cool as cucumbers into the bargain.
Viktor Erik Emanuel kicked off the second half with Chopin’s Barcarolle in F# Major and was again followed by Ivana Bueno, this time dancing the tambourine variation from Esmeralda. Much fun and high kicking followed, her in a gorgeous green and black tutu with tasteful diamanté trimming.
UTOPIA (The Is Way Inside), choreographed and danced by Yasser D’Oquendo just didn’t work for me. Based upon his experience of emigrating from Cuba to attempt to establish a career in the UK, it conveyed nothing other than a rather frenetic angst with some acrobatics thrown in. The pink tracksuit did nothing to enhance the dance.
If the Forsythe was the highlight of the first half, then Proximity was without doubt the highlight of the second. Choreographed, designed and performed by James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight, it is a mature, sophisticated duet packed with movement variety that works physically and emotionally on several different levels. There is antagonism and co-operation, all executed with a contained energy that raised the level of anticipation and left one wanting more.
Katja Khaniukova and Aitor Arrieta Coca closed the evening bravely with the traditional gala finale of the Don Quixote Suite. Always hairy, at least for the ballerina, it must be even more so at close quarters. It was a pity though that Arrieta Coca’s legs were rendered all-but invisible in black trousers by the black floor and low lighting, although he at least he could use Lantern’s vast stage for some expansive tours au salle.
Ballet Nights is an excellent introduction to dance, serving as it does, high quality, varied, bite-sized chunks. It certainly has its place, not least in giving opportunities for emerging and less well-known choreographers and performers. Whether a compère is needed, I’m less sure, but that’s personal taste.
Ballet Nights is planned to be back at the end of January. Look out for announcements.