Comic Cuts delights in Summer Variations by Elmhurst Ballet School

Elmhurst Ballet School studio theatre, Birmingham
July 11, 2017

David Mead

This year’s Upper School show in Elmhurst Ballet School’s brief Summer Variations season once again showed how lucky Birmingham is to have the school in the city. The evening showcased well the young dancers in choreography that stretched beyond ballet to contemporary, flamenco and jazz, including impressive new works by Birmingham Royal Ballet artistic director David Bintley and Stéphen Delattre, who has his own company in Mainz, Germany; and the revival of a short Frederick Ashton piece not seen for over 30 years.

Elmhurst may be the associate school of BRB but Comic Cuts is the first work Bintley has created especially for the school. It’s a gem, an utter delight from start to finish, and a work that captures brilliantly the personalities and talents of the Year 14 graduating students it was made on.

The 15-minute work, in five sections, was inspired by comics and early cartoons, the Silly Symphonies, and the early Disney’s. The music by Raymond Scott, whose work was picked up by the cartoon makers and adapted for many 1930s classics including the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, is appropriately fun and upbeat.

Bintley’s costumes (he designed those too) may be largely black and white, but the work is loaded with witty moments guaranteed to make you smile. The opening ensemble section, ‘The Big House’, is reminiscent of an engine, all pistons and valves, pumping sharply away. Billy Brooke and Jordan Wright were a delight in ‘Penguins’, waddling around the stage at speed in their white aprons and oversize bow ties like a couple of highly animated French waiters. Despite the sometimes complex footwork, they were perfectly together.

Lydia Holt and Charlampos Skoupas in Next Breath by Stephen DelattrePhoto Andrew Ross
Lydia Holt and Charlampos Skoupas in Next Breath by Stephen Delattre
Photo Andrew Ross

After the ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’, the ballet’s grand waltz, comes a sudden splash of colour courtesy of Hamish Scott as Pharaoh, in brilliant blue and gold, and Saho Nozaki as Cleopatra in ‘Egyptian Barn Dance’. Scott was particularly impressive, and it’s easy to see why he has accepted Bintley’s offer to join BRB. Look out for the four mummies who interrupt their duet. A big (and cleverly titled) ‘Fun’ale’ brings it all to a glorious close. Mad, yes. Hugely enjoyable, yes, yes! Regretfully, no photographs of Comic Cuts are available at present.

Equally notable is Delattre’s Next Breath, danced to part of Michael Gordon’s Weather One. Delattre makes good use of pointework in contemporary choreography, initially full of fast-moving solos and duets, and that is as edgy as the score. The style stretched the students but I couldn’t help thinking the ballet training took over a little. At times, the movement felt a little too rounded and felt like it should have been clearer and sharper. When the men and women later form up into separate groups, the latter especially look like an army of ants. I would love to see the piece extended to take in the whole of the half-hour or so of the music. It’s also the sort of piece I would like to see BRB tackle from time to time.

Yuzu Hikosaka, Harvey Evans, Chloe Jones and Reo Morikawain Frederick Ashton's Explosions PolkaPhoto Andrew Ross
Yuzu Hikosaka, Harvey Evans, Chloe Jones and Reo Morikawa
in Frederick Ashton’s Explosions Polka
Photo Andrew Ross

From the new to the old, and the revival of Ashton’s Explosions Polka, which accompanied his Voices of Spring pas de deux in The Royal Opera’s 1977 production of Die Fledermaus, and which had not been seen since the 1984 Christmas season at The Royal Opera House. The short ensemble work, that here opened the show, is as light as highly whipped cream, and as good-tasting. Well-danced by the Year 13s, it certainly set the tone for the evening.

There was much to enjoy elsewhere. Lee Robinson’s Schumann Piano Quintet was strongly danced by five Year 12 and 13 men, with Ryan Felix standing out for his presence as well as his excellent leaps and turns. In fact, the men, and their partnering were generally excellent all evening.

Year 13 in Ana Garcia's SoleáPhoto Andrew Ross
Year 13 in Ana Garcia’s Soleá
Photo Andrew Ross

Spanish colour and flair came in Ana Garcia’s two flamenco pieces, Compromiso and Soleá, both in the dancing by the Year 12s and 13s respectively, and from musicians Marco el Canastero on guitar and Nina Wertz on piano. The dancers captured the rhythms and moods perfectly, with Felix again to the fore in Comprimoso. In Soleá, I was especially taken by Reo Morikawa, who showed great clarity and expression, and who also shone in student Chloe Jones’ piece, Adversus, which won the school’s David Bintley Choreography Award.

There was plenty more ballet in some short excerpts from La Bayadère and Suite of Dances, the latter including the pas de deux from Ashton’s Rhapsody. “Bring all your steps,” Ashton reportedly told Baryshnikov when making the latter, and it is certainly full of them. Saho Nozaki and Jordan Wright danced it well, the lifting and partnering again excellent, but I wonder about the choice of the piece for a student show as young dancers. Rachmaninoff’s melodic, swirling music is very grand and powerful. Even though a piano reduction (as used here) greatly reduces that, it is very difficult for students to get to the same level.

Also danced was Another Day of Sun, a jazzy, musical theatre number to the opening music of the movie La La Land; and Endurance by Hannah Lockyer.

Graduate destinations

Also joining Hamish Scott at BRB are Brogan McKelvey as artist and Jade Wallace as an apprentice. Elsewhere in the UK, Siri Girling is heading to Leeds to join Northern Ballet’s graduate programme; Elizabeth Donson, Hannah Scott, Isobel Holland and Jordan Wright are off to the pre-professional programme of Ballet Cymru; and Laura Bruzzone is joining Ballet Theatre UK on a graduate placement.

Joining companies abroad are Abigail Baker (Vienna State Ballet), Sara Nativi (Ballet Nice Méditerranée), Wakana Matsuzawa (Tokyo Ballet), Saho Nozaki (Atlantic City Ballet apprenticeship programme, USA), Connor Williams (National Ballet of Estonia), Charalampos Skoupas (The Wroclaw Opera Ballet), Harry Simmons Aalto Ballett Theater Essen) and Lydia Holt (Cork City Ballet).

William Brooke and Erin Sheffield have been offered Elmhurst Ballet School graduate placements giving them an opportunity to continue their training.

Elmhurst prides itself in giving students experience in all areas of performance. Graduate student, Joseph Massey, discovered a passion for lighting design when shadowing BRB’s technicians and will continue to follow that as he joins Merlin Entertainment as a Lighting Technician.

Elsewhere, Moesha Lamptey is going to Sheffield University to study History and German, while Georgia Stanfield enters further education towards a career in Marine Biology.