Royal Opera House, London
July 10, 2021
This year’s Royal Ballet School Summer Performances took on a different hue. Due to Covid and the need for students to remain in their bubbles, all year groups had several individual performances, each of the eight year groups has dancing in its own dedicated performances, culminating in a this final collective performance at the Royal Opera House. That’s nine programmes over 32 shows. Quite an achievement.
The big Royal Opera House performance wasn’t immune from change either, being restricted to the Upper School only, apart from one work danced by the Year-11 students. There will be many who disagree, but I welcomed the opportunity to see more of the older and graduating students on a big stage.
The fine three-hour show of largely classical ballet (equally welcome) got off to a fine sunny start with Playfully So by Valentino Zucchetti. Performed by the Upper School 2nd Years to music from Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1, it does indeed very much have the sense of a bunch of friends playing. Among the highlights was a dance for the six men to the Gavotte that the composer would later reuse in his Romeo and Juliet.
Basilio’s solo from Act III of Don Quixote may have been the shortest dance of the afternoon but it was also unforgettable in all the right ways. Graduating student Yuma Matsuura had just the right approach, going for it right from the off. He showed super height on his jumps and great pirouettes, spinning like a top before slowing and ending them with remarkable control.
A pause for breath with first years in the Garland Dance from Peter Wright’s Sleeping Beauty, was followed by the only sighting of the Lower School: the Year-11s in Morgann Runacre-Temple’s joyful Swingle Stepping. Dance is often as much about catching the mood as perfecting steps. Runacre-Temple and her White Lodge dancers got it just about spot on with both.
Performed to music by the Swingle Singers and The Blue Brothers’ take on Henry Mancini’s iconic theme music for the late 1950s Peter Gunn American private eye TV series, it captured the mood of TV of the period perfectly. The often accented movement was sharply performed throughout, the togetherness in the unison sections excellent. Even the costumes yelled period, especially the mustard coloured tops for the men, which reminded me of close-fitting turtleneck sweaters of the time (although here they didn’t actually have roll-necks). It was so good, I could have sat through it again.
Preceding the first interval, Memphisto Waltz by Ashley Page is an elegant, sleek tutu ballet that showed the third years’ classicism off perfectly.
The middle part of the performance was given over to Kenneth MacMillan’s dance concert, Elite Syncopations. It allowed the graduating students the chance to show a different aspect of their artistry. They certainly gave it their all in a spirited performance that got a great reception from the audience.
Those sections that tended away from the slapstick worked best. I was especially impressed by the tantalising and teasing Olivia Findlay in the ‘Calliope Rag’, who gave it just the slinky, steamy feel that it needs. But is also needs to be danced tastefully and understated. She got that spot on too. Eric Pinto Cata, who has a superbly pliant body also stood out in the Hot House Rag, where he was effervescent while still as precise as can be. Matsuura in ‘Friday Night’ proved that his earlier performance as Basilio was no one-off. Elite Syncopations is a tricky ballet to get right, however, and elsewhere I couldn’t help feeling some of the subtlety was missing. Some of the smoothness in the pas de deux here and there too. But the dancers are young and no doubt both will come with experience.
After Mozart Suite by Mikaela Polley, another elegant choreography to the composer’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major, came Is to Be, originally created by Didy Veldman for an interlude performance at the 2019 Prix de Lausanne. It starts off with the 2nd-year dancers facing each other in a big circle, then develops into a fast-moving, flowing ballet with lots of entrances and exits.
As it feeds beautifully off the first movement, Ludus, of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, to which its danced, it relies much on the power of the ensemble, the dancers using each other’s energy. But there are moments of sublime peace too, most memorably in the second duet (Scarlett Harvey and Oscar Kempsey-Fagg). Some of the patterning, the cast gathering then opening out like a sea anemone shifting in the swell, their arms its tentacles, is beautiful.
Graduating students Julie Petanova and Alejandro Valera Outlaw were an elegant pairing in the first movement of Ben Stevenson’s softly romantic Three Preludes, danced to a Rachmaninov’s piano prelude, played on stage by Tracey Renwick. Full of lyricism and flowing beautifully, they were the perfect embodiment of a gentle flirtation as they dance around a ballet barre that both links and separates them.
The younger White Lodge students were not forgotten. Prior to the closing Grand Défilé, they were seen in a nicely-judged film created by the BalletBoyz that featured the youngsters taking us behind the scenes into dorms, classes and rehearsals.
They may not have been able to be present on stage in person, but the Lower School dancers also still managed to appear in that Grand Défilé thanks to some projections.
Finally, times may be difficult but it’s good to report that all the graduating students have secured contracts with companies around the world, with four joining The Royal Ballet’s own Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme.