Elmhurst Ballet Company: Legacy

Studio Theatre, Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham
May 19, 2023

As Elmhurst Ballet School continues to celebrate its centenary, the fifth iteration of Elmhurst Ballet Company presented Legacy, an evening that looked acknowledged history but that also looked forward with new choreography, and new graduate dancers about to enter the professional world.

Rather appropriately, Legacy opened and closed with scenes from Frederick Ashton’s 1956 pièce d’occasion, Birthday Offering, created to mark the 25th anniversary of the then Sadler’s Wells Ballet. The seven couples that initially enter moved with calm assurance. But it is a very demanding ballet and many faces suggested nerves. Sure enough, as things progressed, there were a few tricky partnering and pirouette moments. But standing tall and immune from all that was Samantha Wong, at the centre of everything and the one dancer whose face told us she was truly enjoying herself.

Resonate, a contemporary piece by company member Jack Farren, with music by Elliot Moss, featured a few pleasing duets, but while neatly constructed and performed, it failed to excite.

The End is Where We Start by Jordan James Bridge of Studio Wayne McGregor
(pictured: Sophie Walters and Ben Spiteri)
Photo Magda Hoffman

Sonia Fajardo’s Malambo is inspired by Gaucho dance and performed to extracts from Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s score for the ballet Estancia. When it was presented earlier this year at Symphony Hall (then titled Two Dances from Estancia) as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s An Evening of Music and Dance, it appeared very squeezed for space. It looked much better on Elmhurst’s studio theatre stage, where it found room to breathe. But, while it was danced with enthusiasm and verve, I still feel the choreography never quite matches the power or spirit of the music.

The End is Where We Start by Jordan James Bridge of Studio Wayne McGregor, created collaboratively with the dancers, promised much. It is certainly McGregor-esque in that there are lots of big extensions but overall the dance felt rather smoothed out. Edgy or cutting edge it is not. Some jarring changes of music and movement do not help the flow, however, the whole at times feeling rather like a collection of disparate ideas for a work-in-progress.

But the young dancers did look very at home with the movement vocabulary. The highlight was a fine duet for Wong and Farren (her partner in Birthday Offering too). Wong is gorgeously lithe yet strong. She has a wonderful way of suspending movement. I’m still trying to figure out why she wore pointe shoes for the first section but not thereafter, though.

Elmhurst Ballet Company in Bronislava
Photo Magda Hoffman

After the interval, Cris Penfold’s jazzy Doin’ That Doo-Wah Thing! brought a dash of Hollywood musicals to proceedings in a bright and breezy dance that features everyone in top hats and the women in heels and with canes.

In July, the Ballet de Santiago in Chile will premiere Avatâra Ayuso’s new full-length ballet, Nijinska, secreto de la vanguardia (Nijinska, Secrets of the Avant-garde), a biopic, where Bronislava Nijinska and her love for dance are the protagonists. Her Bronislava for Elmhurst Ballet Company was made after workshopping ideas for the Chilean piece with the dancers.

Classical ballet through and through, the choreography features some fine use of the ensemble in stylish dance. That is all around the two central figures of Sergei Diaghilev (Farren) and Bronislava’s brother, Vaslav Nijinsky, rather convincingly played by Léo Rech. It left one wanting more, even if Nijinska herself was strangely conspicuous by her absence, as also was any overt reference to her Les Noces, which also has its 100th birthday this year, and which it is claimed Bronislava honours.

Elmhurst Ballet Company with Year 12 and 13 Elmhurst Ballet School students
in ‘Argonauts’ from The Orpheus Suite by David Bintley
Photo Magda Hoffman

The evening’s upward curve continued with the company’s men, supplemented by six Year 12 and 13 students, in ‘Argonauts’ from David Bintley’s The Orpheus Suite. A jazz-lover, Bintley always hit the mark when choreographing to the music. The men did him proud in dance that is fast-paced, non-stop and just a little bit quirky.

To close, it was back to Birthday Offering and the ballet’s finale. It was confidently danced but it was rather blink and you’ll miss it. A shame.

The evening’s eight pieces or excerpts were mostly divided by video featuring the dancers speaking about their time at Elmhurst. There were a lot of very sincere comments about the school making each dancer the person they are, but the films did increasingly feel like promotional efforts. A few more comments that illuminated the works, perhaps from the choreographers as well as the students’ experiences making or learning them, might have been better.

But it was an enjoyable evening, even if fewer but longer, meatier pieces, would have been more satisfying and perhaps given a better idea of what these clearly talented dancers could do. As the door opens on the next stage of their career, we wish them well.