Summer Creations from Elmhurst Ballet School

Elmhurst Studio Theatre, Birmingham
July 10, 2018

David Mead

Summer performances are always a little bit different at Elmhurst to the other vocational schools, with a much wider range of dance on show: tap, jazz and show dance besides the expected contemporary and ballet. Most dances are also rather shorter than elsewhere and made by Elmhurst’s own teachers. Indeed, there were no fewer than 13 on this Summer Creations programme, one of those with nine separate sections. Held in the school’s own studio theatre, they are also a lot more intimate, with everyone close to the stage.

The two stand-out pieces of the show both came after the interval. The most innovative choreography came, unsurprisingly, from Alexander Whitely in his Flite, made for the graduating Year 14 students. Right from the opening image of 13 dancers in sleek silhouette, here was someone who knows how to present bodies on stage, even when not actually moving. Set to Bryce Dessner’s Aheym, written for the Kronos Quartet, Whitley explores the energy of the music (which has a tricky and relatively unusual 5/4 time signature) in dance that typically has a contemporary classical outlook. It was embraced fully by the students, who generally looked much more comfortable in the contemporary pieces, although, admittedly, small errors are harder to spot. Highlights included a dynamic early duet for Joseph Taylor and Brittany Green; a neat, accurate solo full intent by Yuzu Hikosaka; and some fizz from Reo Morikawa at the end.

Taylor has already performed with Birmingham Royal Ballet in The Tempest, Cinderella and Aladdin, and joins the company as an Apprentice after the summer. He is this year’s recipient of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Elmhurst Ballet School Award for Excellence, which funds one exceptional graduate to join the company on a one-year apprenticeship. You can see why.

James Lovell in Emociones by Ana GarciaPhoto Andy Ross
James Lovell in Emociones by Ana Garcia
Photo Andy Ross

The marvellous élan of Morikawa was also to the fore in Concierto de Fuego by Errol Pickford, Lei Zhao, danced to music from Arturo Márquez’s Danzó No.2. On fire he was too. His turns were particularly outstanding, even causing the audience to gasp and applaud mid-dance. In a duet, he showed he can do sensual too, and that he’s a good partner, with strong. He may be far from the tallest dancer in the school but he makes up for that in personality. His infectious smile and zest seemed to rub off on the rest of dancers, with everyone ramping up several gears.

Back to the beginning, Summer Creations opened with the Year 7 students in the bright, jazzy Tangled Vines by Sarah Moore. There was a lot of shaking shoulders and young enthusiasm. Folk dance can teach a lot about musicality, rhythm and patterns, and can help with speedy footwork, and it made a pleasant change to see some British (well, Scottish) folk in Nicky Linzie’s Cruinneachadh for the Year 8s.

As the first half worked its way through the school, the Year 9s got a chance to shine in Jenny MacNamara’s Powers of Reasoning, described as contemporary although I would have called it jazz or ‘show dance’. That was followed by the Year 10s in Swing by Sarah Moore, a mix of jazz and tap with a dash of ballet thrown in, including some decent pirouettes and turns in second from a couple of the boys.

Year 14 students in Tempting Fate by Zak NemorinPhoto Andy Ross
Year 14 students in Tempting Fate by Zak Nemorin
Photo Andy Ross

You can’t have an Elmhurst summer show without flamenco created by Ana Garcia. Out of Line, co-choreographed with Laura Vanhulle for the Year 11s, had a bit of a contemporary edge to it, most of the cast slithering on to surround Lydia Brayshaw, whose opening solo had a strong sense of a hot, sultry night about it; rather appropriate this summer. There was more flamenco later with Emociones, danced by Years 12 to 14, which included a strong face-off between two of the men.

The half closed with Classical Inspiration, choreographed by seven of the school’s teachers and essentially a journey through classwork for Years 7 to 11. It got off to a fun start with the Year 7 boys more enthusiastic and engaging than most. As Classical Inspiration went on, I did sometimes sense what seemed to be an odd lack of confidence here and there (nerves perhaps), and in some cases upper of body strength too. Arms especially too often appeared not to be strongly held. By the time we got towards the top of the Lower School, you could see how the jumps and turns were improving. There was one nice set of fouettés from one of the girls’ and a particularly buzzing performance from Nicola Marchionni, the Year 11 boy showing bags of personality and some good turns.

Other works after the interval included Tempting Fate by Zak Nemorin, a jazzy showpiece with lots of rhythm and syncopation before it was back to ballet with the waltz and march from Act I of Peter Wright’s Giselle by Year 13. Of much more interest would have been the pas de deux from Wright’s 1963 work for Stuttgart Ballet, The Mirror Walkers, but that was being saved for a gala evening later in the week. There was more ballet with excerpts from Coppélia by the Year 12s, including a spirited Call to Arms by three men, although ends to pirouettes and tours were not as clean as they might be. It was unfortunate that both Giselle and Coppélia suffered from lack of context and numbers, and were afflicted by poorly edited music with the excerpts hard up against one another, giving neither the dancers nor audience time to breathe. Completing the contemporary dance was Ask Yourself by Stéphen Delattre. While pleasing enough, it didn’t quite have the same power or sharpness as last year’s Next Breath.

The evening of enthusiasm and energy from the young performers concluded with the traditional Grand Defilé. Now the graduating students set off on the next stage of their careers, on the stages of the world, joining a long list of alumni who are currently working in professional dance.

Apart from Joseph Taylor joining Birmingham Royal Ballet, of particular note is second year Upper School student James Lovell, who is graduating a year early to join New Adventures for their 2018-9 tour, where he will make his debut as the Prince in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Other destinations include Ailey II and Ajkun Ballet Theatre in New York, the highly-regarded Sarasota Ballet in Florida, Vanemuine Ballet Theater in Estonia, Romanian National Ballet, Cinevox Theatre Ballet in Switzerland, the graduate programme of Northern Ballet and Vienna Festival Ballet.