Fine dance with a dash of comedy in an English National Ballet School’s mixed-bill

Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
March 4, 2022

This short programme at the Lilian Baylis Theatre was well designed to show the range and quality of these young dancers, mostly from the third-year pre-professional programme at the ENB School. In addition to the graduation level dance training, this final year offers performance experience and audition preparation. The four new works covered classical and contemporary dance while also allowing the dancers to show their presentation and comedy skills.

Juan Eymar, former dancer with Dutch National Ballet, and now teacher at the ENB School choreographed Holberg Suite giving the opportunity for the eight female and four male performers to demonstrate their ballet prowess. Edward Grieg’s gentle melodies are complemented with lyrical choreography for the females in simple flowing dresses. The fluid torsos and neo-classical ports de bras were supplemented by good placing and clean lines. The men, particularly in the brief trio, get the chance to show their virtuosity in challenging choreography spiced with a touch of folk dance.

Holberg Suite by Juan Eymar
Photo A Dancers Lens

Valeria Garcia and Jordan Micalief gave strong leadership as the main couple. Eymar’s pas de deux, elegant and stylish were delivered with professional finish. Micalief, who goes on to join the National Ballet of Canada, showed exceptional movement quality, never forced and always giving the necessary technical finish. A lovely dancer to watch.

Joseph Toonga’s In Motion We Feel is a more contemporary work although the women are on pointe for the opening scenes. Danced by a large group of seventeen dancers it gave several solo opportunities where the performers showed impressive technique and confident stage presence. The movement is often fractured, the music rhythmic with a variety of unusual sounds, all presenting different challenges and creating an undercurrent of tension and restlessness.

Lead, choreographed by Le Wang was performed by Isobel Fisher. It is a clever exposition of the geometry of the human body: the angles, the curves, the degrees and shapes and Fisher’s long limbs and technical prowess were well suited to do it justice. Le Wang showed innovation in finding variations and different movement qualities to ring the changes. Despite the abstract quality of the short solo, Fisher held the stage self-assured, poised and engaging.

Italian choreographer, Mauro de Candia, brought the programme to a light-hearted climax with Velvet. The music is a selection of some of the best loved opera arias, including those from La Traviata, Magic Flute and Carmen. It is not a ballet for the self-effacing as performers try to hog the limelight, brazenly pushing the competition aside. Lucy Ruff’s costumes are entirely suitable, neutral body suits with stocking caps, the only distinguishing feature the bedraggled red ruff around the dancers’ necks. It is left to the women to add character through their own personalities. This they did in bucket loads and kept the audience well entertained.

De Candia’s choreography is sometimes expressed as movement in a bundle of bodies, sometimes in a disciplined corps de ballet but always fully aware of the other. It is dance in close harmony and the cast all played their part impressively. Heightened musicality enabled individual performers to add little gems of humour with a bubble of laughter as a subtext to the work. It was a great treat for both dancers and audience.

English National Ballet School in In Motion We Feel by Joseph Toonga
Photo A Dancers Lens

The last years have been difficult for dancers and particularly so for those in their final years of training.  It was inspiring to see these dancers at the start of their careers with such faith and enthusiasm and I hope that find their company of choice.