New works take the eye in the Ballet United Gala

Cadogan Hall, London
July 19, 2017

Maggie Foyer

This was a gala with a difference, the word ‘ballet’ appears in the title but the range of dance extended much further. The grand total of fifteen items included new creations dotted amongst the well-known classics and new graduates amongst the seasoned professionals. Another treat was the bijou orchestra, six members, piano and strings, tucked side-stage and softening the austerity of the Cadogan Hall, not the best of ballet venues.

Founder-director, Tom Attard-Manché’s stated mission is to open up the world of dance, one that, in his words promotes “the ethos of tolerance, inclusiveness and beauty.” Most dance people would not find a lot to disagree with here and Nafisah Baba dancing Near the place where your feet pass, choreographed by Laila Diallo, was the evidence. Baba, winner of BBC Young Dancer 2017, gave a terrific performance, dancing with fluid movement and interpretive strength in an evocative solo that finds focus on a pair of red boots placed centre stage.

More new choreography came from Nicola Gervasi of Northern Ballet. Looking at the Sky, bursting with power and energy was danced by fellow Northern Ballet dancer Matthew Koon. Hege Haagenrud’s Picture a vacuum – 4:18, the story of three lonely characters told in voice-over and choreographed in eloquent gestures was interpreted with simplicity and sincerity by Georgie Rose, Royal Ballet School trained and now with the Norwegian National Ballet. The only ensemble work, seven dancers in Umut Özdaloğlu’s Mana, was also newly choreographed. Intriguing costuming, flesh toned tights and cerise socks, enhanced the dramatic images and innovative structuring of his contemporary dance piece.

Mana by Umut Özdaloğlu of the Ballet Junior de GenèvePhoto Danny J Peace
Mana by Umut Özdaloğlu of the Ballet Junior de Genève
Photo Danny J Peace

Valentino Zucchetti, first soloist at the Royal Ballet, featured as both dancer and choreographer. Vestris, choreographed by Leonid Jacobsen was a perfect vehicle for his considerable talents: a tour de force of virtuoso dance and mime laced with biting irony. His creation, Warp, showed an interesting development of ballet choreography. Innovative, sometimes moving out of focus but always thought-provoking, it was given an excellent performance by Alix Cameron-Martin and Sandy Nutall.

Ernst Meisner, better known to English audiences as a former dancer with the Royal Ballet and now Artistic Co-ordinator for the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet and a serious choreographic talent, wrote Embers, a stylish, edgy duet for Melissa Chapski, (JC) and James Stout (second soloist at DNB) to music by Max Richter. They also performed Hans van Manen’s Trois Gnossiennes. A well-matched pair, confident in the master’s austere uncluttered style, where simple walking patterns become poetry, their duets were among the evening’s highpoints.

Ambre Chiarcosso and Paul Marque in Benjamin Millepied's La nuit s'achèvePhoto Danny J Peace
Ambre Chiarcosso and Paul Marque in Benjamin Millepied’s La nuit s’achève
Photo Danny J Peace

Benjamin Millepied’s La nuit s’achève, one of his loveliest choreographies, was danced by Ambre Chiarcosso and Paul Marque of the Paris Opéra Ballet. Tender and intimate, a relationship shared in the dance, it had moments of joy and strength and a poignant understated finish. Chiarcosso was less successful in her Grand Pas Classique danced with Loick Pireaux, an exceptionally tall dancer from Rome Opera Ballet. Each had their moments of brilliance, notably her balances and his tours, and, although the performance was uneven, it had the flashes of excitement this flamboyant work needs. Marque had the chance to show his fine classical style, closing the first half with the effervescent Mazurka from Étude. Scott McKenzie from the Vienna State Ballet danced the Nureyev version of the Prince’s Sleeping Beauty Vision Scene solo. It is a fiendishly difficult variation, particularly when taken out of context, but he showed clean, strong technique and an elegant line.

Professionalism came to the fore in the Sleeping Beauty pas de deux danced by Gina Scott and Vaclav Lamparter from Dresden Semperoper Ballett. They opened the Gala and if the first steps showed a trace of nerves, that soon dissipated in the sweeping musical phrases of the pas de deux. Lamparter’s solo was taken at a particularly slow tempo which did little to build the dynamics but gave the opportunity to display his elegance and technical clarity. Meticulous musical phrasing and precision pointes added sparkle to Scott’s variation and they fired up to a radiant coda.

Ambre Chiarcosso and Loick Pireaux in the Grand Pas ClassiquePhoto Danny J Peace
Ambre Chiarcosso and Loick Pireaux
in the Grand Pas Classique
Photo Danny J Peace

On the whole, the classical extracts fared less well than the newer works. The Dying Swan is a particular challenge for a young dancer and Isabella McQuire Mayes, the first British graduate from the Vaganova Academy, struggled to get beyond the bourrées and into the soul of the work. It was a similar story with the Black Swan Pas de Deux danced by Katherine Higgins and Joseph Aumeer both very promising dancers from the Paris Opéra. Aumeer is a supremely elegant dancer and Higgins a strong virtuoso – she whipped off the fouettés with no trouble – but the meaning of the work and the relationship, was harder to find.

Tom Attard-Manché is to be commended for his brave venture. It was good to see so many British dancers, like Scott, Stout, Rose, Aumeer and Mayes performing back on home soil and so many up-and-coming dancers given exposure. A platform for new choreography is always welcome but the young dancers performing demanding classical works away from their mentors and without the help of wardrobe, (there were some truly terrible tutus) were very exposed. However, the audience embraced both classical and new with enthusiasm and gave the performers a tremendous ovation.