English National Ballet School, 2023 Summer Performance

Peacock Theatre, London
July 8, 2023

This was an exciting evening for the English National Ballet School; it showed them back on track as a quality professional ballet school after a couple of difficult years. The five choreographies were well chosen to show the students to good advantage in a range of dance styles. The two classical works spanned the centuries: La Sylphide from 1837, and Balanchine’s Who Cares? From 1970.

Marilyn Vella-Gatt has meticulously curated Bournonville’s choreography resulting in delicate arms, softened line of body and shaded épaulement in well-rehearsed lines. Florence Lane was a confident Sylph, showing a strong elevation and telling her story with easy charm. Gabriel Pimparel fully inhabited the role of the love-smitten James gazing at his fairy love with adoration. A fine jeté and clean beats completed the character while the neat trio of sylphs leading the corps completed a very satisfying performance.

English National Ballet School in Andrew McNicol’s Of Space and Time
Photo ASH

The male dancers got their opportunities in Andrew McNicol’s Of Space and Time. It’s a quirky ballet-based work boosted by high energy extracts from classical scores and attacked with glee. There are surprises at every turn as an arabesque morphs into a handstand or floor roll plus plenty of aerial acrobatics but a little more focus on secure pliés on landing is always a good insurance policy.

Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Sound and Vision introduced the students to a bit of last century kit: a dial-up telephone. It creates a focal point and sense of tension as the receiver is passed from hand to hand. The choreography however is of today, the dancers moving with full body fluidity and showing very effective partnering. Mika Karlsson’s score is an inventive accompaniment and the work closes on a blast from David Bowie.

Innovative partnering is also a feature of Monique Jonas’ Flock, a contemporary work very well handled by the students. The work starts closely linked and tightly structured before being let off the lead and breaking out. The virtuosity is understated but the height on the jumps, both male and female was impressive and all to a rhythmic score by Le Trio Joubran.

English National Ballet School in George Balanchine’s Who Cares?
Photo ASH

George Balanchine’s Who Cares? was a bold choice that paid off. It still has a way to go to get the required steel and sass but the dancers attacked it with infectious enthusiasm. This version, mounted by Deborah Winert uses a large cast and dispenses with the solos in favour of ensemble work. There was obvious enjoyment from the large cast who paid keen attention to Gershwin’s catchy rhythms and the comedy undertones. It was a brave move that made a rousing finale.