BTUK 2 debuts with Emanate

April 16, 2021

David Mead

BTUK 2 is the new junior company of Ballet Theatre UK featuring dancers in their final year of study at the company’s affiliated Ballet School. Performing is an important part of a dancer’s training, and the aim of the new ensemble is to provide such opportunities, and to create new and innovative work as the dancers set out on their classical careers. While it may be a product of the pandemic, BTUK artistic director Christopher Moore explains that the intention is to grow it into a permanent member of the BTUK family.

Their first programme, Emanate, features two adaptations of iconic classical repertoire alongside four new works, all initially at least created remotely during lockdown before rehearsal progressed to the studio once allowed. Although all the new creations come in at less than five minutes, there’s plenty of interest, and plenty of fine dancing from the clearly talented young dancers. Each work is introduced by the choreographers and dancers who give interesting insights into the process and the challenges faced, and the thinking behind each work. It’s just a shame that the sound quality sometimes makes it difficult to hear clearly (the background music doesn’t help either).

BTUK 2's The Dying SwanStill courtesy Ballet Theatre UK
BTUK 2’s The Dying Swan
Still courtesy Ballet Theatre UK

The take on Fokine’s The Dying Swan features multiple birds, the film flitting between female students and guests from Ballet Theatre UK in living rooms at home, in gardens, parks and more, each putting their own slightly different interpretation on the work.

My favourite of the new pieces is Severance, in which choreographer Ewan Hambelton and dancers Michael Maple, Paul Meneu and Nathan Anson make good use of a table and chair. It’s cleverly filmed and edited too, with each in their own section of a three-way split three ways. Whether mirror, unison, or simply complimenting, the set up works brilliantly. The performers very much bring feelings of despair and yearning in the choreography, which includes some lovely arabesques that seem to go on for ever.

Nathan Anson, Michael Maple and Paul Meneu in Severance by Ewan HambeltonStill courtesy Ballet Theatre UK 1
Nathan Anson, Michael Maple and Paul Meneu
in Severance by Ewan Hambelton
Still courtesy Ballet Theatre UK

Courtney Evans’ Tabula Rasa is very much a piece of its time. Featuring Sophie Barton, Ciara Donovan-Hill, Rosie Hall and Iman El Maghili-Fisker in a variety of locations that range from the especially appealing open expanses of a foreshore with the tide out, through a field and woodland (the shots up through the trees are super), to the rather down-at-heel, puddle-strewn open deck of a multi-storey car park (oddly, my favourite).

As the film continually shifts from one dancer to another, it’s another example of the montage-style film and choreography that has been commonplace, although I did find it had a more optimistic feel than most. The dance itself is quite abstract, the artists each responding to their own surroundings in their own way.

Rosie Hall in Tabula Rasa by Courtney EvansStill courtesy Ballet Theatre UK
Rosie Hall in Tabula Rasa by Courtney Evans
Still courtesy Ballet Theatre UK

Internal Internment by Charlotte Davis takes us back to isolation and loneliness, although it is rather less depressing and more abstract than many of the works that have addressed the issues recently. Another film that shifts from dancer to dancer, on-screen graphics occasionally adds a 3-D effect. The choreography includes plenty of the usual reaching out that has characterised works on the subject. As they stand at the edge of their space, they sometimes appearing to be hard up against a glass wall we cannot see.

Moore’s own new pas de deux dis:CONNECT takes was filmed in an abandoned factory. Performed by Olivia Wright and Maple, it certainly has colour: the costumes may be simple unitard and tutu but they come in vivid yellow, deep pink and blue. The movement shifts uneasily between robotic and lyric, and for me misses the edginess that I feel the music by Anik demands.

Olivia Wright and Michael Maple in dis:CONNECT by Christopher MooreStill courtesy Ballet Theatre UK
Olivia Wright and Michael Maple
in dis:CONNECT by Christopher Moore
Still courtesy Ballet Theatre UK

Emanate rounds off with an adaptation of highlights from Act III of La Bayadère. It’s a brave choice, but also one that shows how far the School of Ballet Theatre UK, like the company, has come in the past few years. The excerpts are all presented as a collage of film in practice and performance costume. I’m not convinced it works, although the editing is seamless. Somewhat surprisingly, I found the whiteness and huge windows of the studio a very appealing backdrop.

The highlight is the ‘Entrance of Nikiya’ pas de deux, particularly so as the dancers had only recently returned to partner work after many months away. Maple is very assured as Solor, with nice height on jumps and plenty of easy turns, all perfectly finished. He’s clearly also a solid and considerate partner. As Nikiya, Lois Bullough captures well the otherworldliness of being a spirit (having already been a victim of Gamzatti’s plotting).

BTUK 2 in 'The Kingdom of the Shades' from La BayadèrePhoto Daniel Hope 2
BTUK 2 in ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ from La Bayadère
Photo Daniel Hope

Prior to that, the famous entrance into the Kingdom of Shades is neatly done, although the young dancers had no ramp to contend with, of course. It did look a little stiff however. I would like to have seen more use of upper bodies, bending forwards especially.

But all told, a fine debut for the fledgling BTUK 2. There are a lot of opportunities out there for such groups. It can only be a benefit to the young dancers, BTUK’s school and the company. Hopefully, live performances for them are now not too far away.

The young dancers of BTUK 2, 2021Photo Daniel Hope
The young dancers of BTUK 2, 2021
Photo Daniel Hope