Sharing and shining: English National Ballet School’s Summer Show

Bloomsbury Theatre, London
July 16, 2021

It is impressive that ballet schools are even able to present live performances this year and the courage that the ENBS students showed in getting back on stage with a very diverse and challenging programme speaks volumes for both dancers and the dedicated staff.

Some of the works were developed from last year’s online programme but there was also new material. Director Viviane Durante has an interest in reviving ballets that are slipping into history, so the inclusion of Frederick Ashton’s Les Rendezvous (1933) rehearsed by Christopher Carr with such passion, was not unexpected.

English National Ballet School in Les Rendezvous by Frederick Ashton
Photo ASH

The fast intricate footwork which was standard a generation or two back is so much more difficult for these students trained for high extensions, complex partnering and fluidity that encompasses floor and air. The dimensions of the Bloomsbury stage cramped the work that features voluminous skirts plus the period trimmings of boaters and gloves. Carr successfully invests style and wit into the ballet, and the dancers gave a performance to be proud of.

Phillipa McCann was a confident lead, with the charm of a young Dame Darcey plus a fearsome technique. Jose Lorca partnered strongly and boldly attacked the male variation while Gemma Coutts, Hamish Longley and Sebastian Marriott-Smith scored in the frisky Pas de trois. Three pairs of legs jetéing in double quick time. It was a treat.

English National Ballet School in God’s Away on Business
by Morgann Runacre-Temple
Photo ASH

The most interesting work was Morgann Runacre-Temple’s God’s Away on Business set to relentless dark pulse of Tom Wait’s eponymous song. The dancers in dark trousers, vests and braces traverse the stage on a diagonal, louche and edgy in streetwise moves, masking their vulnerability with veiled aggression while a headless man in trench coat à la Magritte adds mystery. The seven dancers of the Professional Trainees programme gave strong performances, with Joel Kioko finding exceptional high definition in movements of explosive energy, certainly a dancer to watch.

I was pleased that the programme included a piece of student choreography. Anima Mea, Anima Vestra by Stefano Magosso is a duet for two men, Andrea Zulian and Longley, written in a fluid contemporary classical style. It is an antagonistic encounter that only partially resolves, with Magosso showing a rare talent for finding meaning in movement.

English National Ballet School in Memorias del Dorado by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo ASH

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa reworked her Memorias del Dorado for the 2nd-Year students. It retains the strong Eastern influence in exotic arms while the movement is quirky and playful. Choreographed for pointe, it evidenced a good standard of classical training and secure, confident partnering in some very tricky lifts. It demanded a lot from the students and got it all.

More conventional ballet came with extracts from Andrew McNicol’s Grace and Gravity. It has a period feel in both costume and music and harks back to an age when grace and elegance were the name of the game. The two 1st-Year couples gave a fitting performance of sweetness and light.

Didy Veldman’s Not So Strictly also reworked from last year’s performance, was a marathon. Performed by the entire school to a bewildering range of music from Cha Cha Cha to Khachaturian to Elvis, wave after wave of dancers were put through their paces in contemporary dance. It was a chance to see the progression through the school and the range of talent. It was also a treat to see all students, male and female, given opportunities to shine and share their passion and joy of dance.