Peacock Theatre, London
July 2, 2022
English National Ballet School offered an evening of dance from a cohort of very committed hard-working dancers, which, of course, reflected the work of a similarly committed teaching staff. The programme was a very mixed bill but with stellar moments.
Dinna Bjørn’s delicious pot-pourri of Bournonville was a fresh, bright opener for the first-year students. Bjørn is herself the essence of charm and warmth and imported this quality to the dancers. Lead couple, Lana Klemen and Gabriel Pimparel, made a good fist of the pas de deux and solos, with Pimparel displaying a crisp entrechat six, a skill rarely seen these days. The easy ballon and lightness of the landings was a treat, evident from the opening male pas de six and continuing throughout. Getting to grips with petit allegro in pointe shoes takes time and there is still work to be done on this score, but it was a quality work, well suited to the students and well performed.
The second-years danced Andrew McNicol’s Grace & Gravity, an excellent work for senior students. The feel is modern with attention to secure detail in ballet technique, training in tightly structured ensemble work giving the students the opportunity to look like employable young professionals. It included a good mix of duets and solos giving the dancers the chance to shine.
The Graduating Students tackled Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody with varying degrees of success. It’s a challenging ballet and I suspect it was chosen to showcase the exceptional virtuosity of Rin Ishikawa whose speed, focus and attack were phenomenal. His second entrance, in particular, was quite brilliant.
Momoko Fusegawa, in the female lead, excelled in the fast, constantly varied choreography with neat, well-placed footwork and crisp turns, the strain of the role only occasionally revealed in brittle ports de bras. She danced the pas de deux with Valdemar Walter, a strong partner who confidently accomplished all the high lefts. Fusegawa looked supremely happy to be hoisted aloft and I wished Walter had shown more of this self-confidence.
Joshua Fisk, James Garrington and Jordan Micallef gave a good showing in the brief pas de trois but on the whole the corps were struggling; executing the steps more with courage than with sound technique. I would have preferred to see these graduating students in a work that gave a clear showing of what they could accomplish to a professional standard.
However, My Home Around Borders, an impressive work from Alleyne Dance was given a strong performance. The Alleyne twins consistently deliver work on important contemporary themes with remarkably well-structured ensemble interaction. The shifts in power play give opportunities for individual dance but most impressive was the cohesion and close working in the group.
The only student work on the programme, but well worthy of inclusion, was a short contemporary duet, Legendary Beast by Ella Matthews. It is a dark intense piece that maintains an undercurrent of tension, with excitement coming in the bursts of athletic choreography It was given a committed performance, totally in the present, by Shizuku Ogawa and Nicolò Zanotti
Emily Gunn, a contemporary dance teacher at ENBS, choreographed And So We Try Again for the second-years. An unusual selection of music and sounds provided a supportive background to an effective work that showcased the dancers’ talents. The many duets gave evidence of strong partnering skill from both men and women. In a compelling ensemble, Camille Jordan, a dancer of presence and obvious talent, was particularly outstanding.
A less reasonable choice was the overlong section of classroom character dance for the first-years. Cutting the barre work and changing the costumes (white tights and heeled shoes just don’t hack it for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances), might have made it more valid. It doesn’t seem a sensible use of curriculum time for dancers about to enter a fiercely competitive dance world. However, the parents, who comprised most of the audience, definitely enjoyed the enthusiasm and energy that the students invested.
ENBS is still located in their old, less than satisfactory premises in South Kensington, with the promised move to City Island delayed. This does not help to bring about a closer relationship with the Company but hopefully this will soon be changing and should place it in a stronger position to attract top quality applicants.