A feast of talent: The Royal Ballet School at Covent Garden

The Royal Opera House, London
June 9, 2016

David Mead

The Royal Ballet School’s annual mainstage performance at the Royal Opera House proved to be the usual feast of excellent dance from the students aged 11 through to those about to embark on professional careers. It was a programme that looked very much to British ballet, with choreography by Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and David Bintley and Liam Scarlett, to which was added a dash of American (Jerome Robbins and Helgi Tomasson) and a splash of things more modern (Stijn Celis).

The Royal Ballet School in Liam Scarlett's Allegro de Jeunesse, Ginevra Zambon centre frontPhoto Johan Persson
The Royal Ballet School in Liam Scarlett’s Allegro de Jeunesse, Ginevra Zambon centre front
Photo Johan Persson

Liam Scarlett’s Allegro de Jeunesse is a complex ballet with a cast of over 30, which makes it all the more remarkable that he created it while still a student at The Royal Ballet School. Although it calls for dancers from all five years of the Lower School, Scarlett does a grand job in stitching together the different levels of technique in a way that largely doesn’t grate; and on those odd occasions when it does feel a little odd, it’s more down to the mix of pointe and non-pointe than anything else. Daichi Ikarashi (Year 10) took the eye with some excellent beats and jumps, although the highlight was a sparky solo by Ginevra Zambon (Year 11), who will be joining the Upper School in September.

Joseph Sissens in SpringTime by David BintleyPhoto Johan Persson
Joseph Sissens in SpringTime by David Bintley
Photo Johan Persson

The new SpringTime is another excellent ballet created especially for the School by David Bintley. From dawn chorus (complete with the sound of recorded birdsong) through morning sunshine to a more thundery, humid end of the day, both Colin Towns’ music (Springtime revisited) and Bintley’s dance really does have the feel of a spring day. In the first movement in particular, Joseph Sissens (joining The Royal Ballet) stood out for his fast footwork and turns. Sissens later featured in a pleasing pas de deux with Kaho Yanagisawa, outstanding in everything she danced in, and who is off to The Royal Swedish Ballet next season.

Kaho Yanagisawa and Giacomo Rovero in Soirée Musicales by Kenneth MacMillanPhoto Johan Persson
Kaho Yanagisawa and Giacomo Rovero in Soirées musicales by Kenneth MacMillan
Photo Johan Persson

The eager youngsters of the Lower School were back en masse for Fête de Glinka, a feast of folk dance put together by Tania Fairbairn. It was packed with energy but also went on a little too long. While I understand the importance of folk dance in training and that it appears in many classics, am I alone in preferring to see the youngsters’ ballet progress? Scarlett showed ballet for the lower years can look good.

Soirées musicales by Kenneth MacMillan was marked by the sparkling reappearance of Yanagisawa in the pas de deux (with Giacomo Rovero, going to The Royal Ballet’s Young Dancers’ Programme) and later solo.

Harrison Lee as the Blue Boy in Frederick Ashton's Les PatineursPhoto Johan Persson
Harrison Lee as the Blue Boy in Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs
Photo Johan Persson

As good as the first half of the programme was, the second felt better, in part because nothing outstayed its welcome. Everyone enjoyed Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs, especially the livewire 2015 Prix de Lausanne winner Harrison Lee (still only in the 1st year at the Upper School), who managed to insert some very acrobatic flips into the middle of one solo. I have no idea what Ashton might have thought, although, and perhaps strangely, they didn’t look particularly out of place. Lee also rounded the ballet off with a lighting fast series of turns in second as the lights went down. My eye was also taken by the two blue girls, Julia Conway and Sae Maeda (1st and 2nd year respectively).

Vertigo Maze by Stijn Celis(dancers l-r l-r Nana Sakai, Simone Acri, Estelle Bovay and Aitor Galende)Photo Johan Persson
Vertigo Maze by Stijn Celis
(dancers l-r Nana Sakai, Simone Acri, Estelle Bovay and Aitor Galende Brizuela)
Photo Johan Persson

There was much to admire in Vertigo Maze by Stijn Celis, a heavenly contemporary ballet that dovetails beautifully with Bach’s Partita for solo violin. Apparently it poses questions about freedom and restriction, but put that one side and just sit back and enjoy the beautiful bodies in motion, the dance full of sweeping limbs and interesting partnering, all in a golden glow. The opening pas de deux between Estelle Bovay (The Royal Ballet Young Dancers’ Programme) and Aitor Galende Brizuela (Birmingham Royal Ballet) was particularly special. Top marks to Celis for the simple but effective costumes too: skin coloured bodices for the ladies, shorts and bare tops for the men.

The Mistake Waltz from The Concert by Jerome RobbinsPhoto Johan Persson
The Mistake Waltz from The Concert by Jerome Robbins
Photo Johan Persson

There was fun and laughs a plenty in the shape of the Mistake Waltz, the funniest part of Jerome Robbins’ The Concert. The ensemble of six women who never quite get it together no matter how hard they try were near perfect, with Johanne Monfret (joining Birmingham Royal Ballet as an apprentice) a hoot as the girl in glasses who gets it wrong more than most.

The pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody is one of the most gorgeous and romantic in the classical canon. Kaho Yanagisawa may have been impressive earlier in the show, but here she was absolutely sublime, seeming to float on the music as she melted into the arms Francisco Serrano (another recruit to the Royal Ballet Young Dancers’ Programme).

Kaho Yanagisawa and Francisco Serrano in the Rhapsody pas de deux by Frederick AshtonPhoto Johan Persson
Kaho Yanagisawa and Francisco Serrano in the Rhapsody pas de deux by Frederick Ashton
Photo Johan Persson

Rounding things off nicely, Helgi Tomasson’s effervescent Concerto Grosso highlighted the male talent at the School in a celebration of bravura. The five strong men fizzed nicely and showed some big jumps, the dance a perfect vehicle for their energy.

All told, a fine show. At the end of the performance all the dancers crowded on stage, and what a happy and, quite rightly, a proud bunch they looked. Some now take the big leap into the professional world, some will return after the summer to continue their training, but already artists all.