Opera Holland Park, London
July 8, 2023
In the delightful setting of Opera Holland Park, this largely Upper School, Royal Ballet School summer show kicked off with the vision scene from Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote. While it certainly serves the purpose of presenting a large cast, it is a little lacklustre and lukewarm.
George Edwards as the eponymous anti-hero partnered nicely, although it is an incidental role at best. Sasha Manuel was a fey Kitri but rather danced with all the stops in. Milda Luckute as Queen of the Dryads had most life, showing a very nice line. She did however appear to struggle a little with the tempo, often a hazard of recorded music.
Fast Blue would have been a much better opening, not last because the pre-professional men all looked far more confident. Precision and placing were consistently good, everyone having sufficient presence to show off the wit and nuance in this super work by Mikaela Polley and, even in an ensemble piece, make it individually their own. Indeed, the young men looked far more impressive than the women throughout the show. Fast Blue would not have looked amiss on the professional stage.
Tom Cape danced in his own pas de deux, Forgetting, with Francesca Lloyd which came with a good sense of structure. It is good to see that choreography is being encouraged at the beginning of dancers’ careers, although it could perhaps have showcased technique more.
Hora La Aninoasa, Sucitoarele showed the senior years of the Lower School in a folk dance that, if nothing else, will prepare the students for character dances in the major ballet works. It is a sort of Romanian Morris dance with the students brandishing clave-like sticks and demonstrating some neat work as they clashed with each other and the floor. There was plenty of room for error (it might have been fun to watch the early rehearsals) but no one put a foot, or rather a stick, wrong.
Bold by Goyo Montero is an ensemble work that demonstrates the flexibility of technique required of classical dancers as ballet effectively engulfs contemporary dance. There was much rushing on and off as black costumed bodies undulated in the semi-darkness. While competently performed, it failed to excite, however.
The second half opened with a rare viewing of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Four Seasons, a work nearly half-a-century old. The women seemed better suited to this than the purely classical Don Quixote and they seemed to enjoy it more too. They certainly demonstrated that they could bourrée endlessly.
The undoubted highlight of the performance was Robert Battle’s terrific solo, Takademe. Caspar Lench owned the stage, with by far the biggest presence of the evening. Technically tricky and demanding a fair bit of discipline and stamina, Lench ate it. He embodied every ounce of the rapid mood changes and one just wanted to rewind and see it again.
Paradoja presented ten students from the upper year of White Lodge in choreography by Year 10 student Cesar Ortego Garçia, another work that concentrated on the modern rather than classical. The still-learning young choreographer certainly showed he already knows how to manage a group.
There was more student choreography in How It Ends, an ensemble piece created to pop music by Rebecca Stewart.
A welcome return to classicism came with the pas de deux from The Two Pigeons. Edwards got a chance to shine after his cameo appearance at the opening, dancing this sentimental Frederick Ashton classic with Bethany Bartlett. They pulled it off with a maturity of understanding, although sans pigeons, the chair empty upstage. Well, almost. There was one pigeon which, presumably objecting to the sudden summer downpour (it is Wimbledon fortnight after all), flew in and settled on the lighting rig. Unfortunately it had departed by the time it could have nabbed a solo.
Finally, excerpts from Christopher Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour was well done and got the pre-professional year onstage together. Like the evening as a whole, it was lacking the excitement and the pizzazz that perhaps one of the classic pas de deux staples might have provided.
It was a pleasant evening, but one that, with the exception of Takademe, never really excited. While the boundaries between classical and contemporary are getting ever more blurred, there was far too little of the former. It would have been good to see the dancers given the opportunity to demonstrate their technique and understanding of the 19th-century canon, which is still important. Or, for that matter, any Romantic work. More that demonstrated ability to create character would have been nice too, although I suppose you can’t have everything.