The National Youth Ballet delight in re|generation

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham
August 26, 2022

This year’s National Youth Ballet programme, re|generation, features the usual mixture of styles with new work rubbing up alongside restagings of some of the company’s most loved repertory, including Jonathan Payn’s quite gorgeous Iken. Led by artistic director Louise Bennett and creative director Jo Meredith, the 2022 cast features no fewer than 105 young dancers aged 9-18 from across the UK, most getting their first opportunity to experience what it is like to be part of a company and to perform on major stages. They all did themselves proud in what was a very enjoyable couple of hours.

Without doubt, the highlight is Payn’s beautifully crafted Iken, a gently lyrical classical ballet inspired by the Suffolk landscape to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. It also has the massive plus of giving extended opportunities to see some of the young dancers as individuals, unlike many of the other works.

Zachery Amiet and Rebecca Johnson in Iken by Jonathan Payn
Photo Sean Purser

Essentially a series of meetings through day into dusk and night before returning to the brightness of morning, the choreography evokes the rural landscape behind. With its water, reeds, distant church and big sky, that backing picture is hugely reminiscent of the Broads.

The ballet has an innocence suggestive of days long gone. The dance itself has a lovely lightness and freedom emphasised by the airy pastel dresses of the women. It just keeps giving. India Kennedy was lovely and light in the second movement allegro, ‘Playful Pizzicato. Narratively it might make more sense if the pairings were kept the same rather than changing but, even so, there are still little hints of narrative in the various meetings.

All three short pas de deux couples delivered: Charlotte Carter and René Kolapo in ‘Night’; then Alexander Amiet and Agathe Deligny; and Zachary Amiet, who impressed in particular, and Eve Bairstow. Zachery Amiet is later paired with Rebecca Johnson in one of two longer duets that was danced by now Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Tyrone Singleton and former BRB dancer Carrie Taylor Johnson in the original 2001 production. The partnering was excellent throughout.

Millie Thompson in Athena by Arielle Smith
Photo Sean Purser

Dare to be different, as they say. Arielle Smith is certainly that in Athena, another restaging, this time an enjoyable and innovative take on Act II of Giselle. Forget delicate white romantic tutus and Wilis appearing to float across the stage. This lot come in black plastic jackets and black tights. Also sporting black horns, they’re a rather aggressive, angry, foot-stomping bunch. When Rio Barker’s ‘Albrecht’ (he’s actually unnamed) makes the mistake of showing up, he’s circled rather menacingly. I also loved the way Millie Thompson, a sort of Giselle and Myrta rolled into one, threw in the odd glare at the audience for good measure.

Two of the new works stood out. From NYB’s Beyond Ballet scheme, Alice O’Brien’s Mímos is a super little piece: a quirky short dance for four that has just a hint of silent movies and clowning about it. The quartet of Lyla Brandon-Bravo, Alice Jespers, Ruby Picken, Isabella Randell were excellent.

Mímos by Alice O’Brien
Photo Sean Purser

Also very appealing is Infinite, a new work by Monique Jonas inspired by nature’s rhythms and cycles. Danced in lovely orangey rust colours, it’s a flowing ensemble piece that makes much use of arms and upper bodies. In the first section, Jonas and the cast reflect nicely the playful, whimsical nature of the accompanying ‘El Jardin’ by Ecuadorian/Swiss brothers Hermanos Gutierrez. The second track, ‘Sua Alma’, a Latin-Afrobeat fusion taken from Skinhsape’s album Umoja and featuring Portuguese singer D’Alma, is just as infectious. It’s beautifully lit too, the black surroundings suggesting it’s all taking place in some astral void.

Infinite by Monique Jonas
Photo Sean Purser

Although all well-danced, the rest of the programme is more choreographically mixed with structure and narrative clarity sometimes lacking.

Matt Nicholson’s Another Night’s Dream, a modern twist on Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy, gets off to a cracking start with a group of brightly coloured fairies who come complete with a delightful cheek and attitude. After that, it all feels a bit like a dance version of a film trailer, though. All the characters are there, itself quite an achievement in the short time, but most appear and disappear far too quickly to get any feel for anyone or anything, any sense of narrative being lost as Nicholson conflates the different elements of the story.

Another Night’s Dream by Matt Nicholson
Photo Sean Purser

While The Green Umbrella by Sophia Hurdley for the Junior Company clearly has a narrative, quite what, and why things happen only started to become clear after going away afterwards and looking up the Constance Heward story, Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella, on which it is very loosely based. It does have a playful sense of fun though, helped along by Scott Jopin’s ragtime music. The joy of performing was evident in the young dancers’ faces, with one or two of the boys looking confident and impressing in particular.

Hover by Daniel Davidson is a high intensity work that explores hive mentality. Unfortunately, the choreography is completely overpowered by the backing moving projection of moths around a light. The dancers also come in a confused mix of pointe shoes, ballet flats and socks, with even small groups usually mixed up.

Completing the programme, Rise by Gerrard Martin is at its best in the opening section that features dancers in overalls and comes with a sense of resilience and travelling. Again, there is a mix of footwear, although here, the four on pointe always form a distinct group, contrasting nicely with the others. With very different movement, music, lighting and costume, the second section feels like a completely different work, however.

I can’t help feeling it’s unfortunate that the company does not have more boys (they are outnumbered by around six to one), but in this age group that seems so often to be the case worldwide. But all told, re|generation is a super programme featuring some very talented young dancers. Bravo to them all.

re|generation by the National Youth Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells on Sunday September 4. Visit for tickets.