Feeling good: The Royal Ballet School Summer Performance

Royal Opera House, London
July 14, 2019

Maggie Foyer

The Royal Ballet School matinee provides the feel-good moment of the ballet season. No matter how many times you have seen the Grand Défilé, the spectacular split-second timing when the entire school assembles in perfect lines, in perfect fifths will bring a lump to your throat. The huge amount of courage and hard work it has taken for each and every student to get to this moment is, in the instant, paid back in the pride and joy of shared company spirit.

The performances in the less formal Opera Holland Park give opportunities to other casts but on the opera house stage the fine dancing was viewed in its full professional setting. The big numbers benefitted most. Frederick Ashton’s La Valse, seen through a gauze of watery images, the lights piercing the clouds of smoke, captures the strangely apocalyptic mood as Ravel’s music swells like a tidal force to drive the dancers on. When the waltz was first introduced to London, the editor of The Times was shocked by “the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs.” I was enchanted by it, as dancing couples melt into each other’s arms to whirl and eddy to the hypnotic thrust of the music.

The Royal Ballet School in Pulse by Goyo MonteroPhoto Tristram Kenton
The Royal Ballet School in Pulse by Goyo Montero
Photo Tristram Kenton

On a stage full of tulle and waltzing bodies, no dancer let this inhibit their flow of movement as couples slipped past each other with a hair’s breadth between. Bomin Kim in the centre, danced as if born to the role, her warmth bringing an added glow while Leo Hepler was a fine partner with an impressive stage presence. The male ensemble is strongly featured, the dancers remarkable in their technical ability and presentation. This was a performance worthy of any professional company.

Petal Miller Ashmole’s Bottega has a very distinctive voice. Written in classical style that acknowledges the past and embraces the future, its sophistication highlights the maturity of the young dancers and lets personality shine through the disciplined technique. The choreography disregards formality and looks to new simple forms. The pas de deux starts with the two, Ella Newton and Luc Foskett, standing quite naturally and finishes in an embrace. In between, ballet steps take on new meaning. I loved also Marta Zabirynnyk’s poignant Harp solo and Matin Diaz buoyant jumps and yielding pliés.

Kele Roberson in his own Start AgainPhoto Tristram Kenton
Kele Roberson in his own Start Again
Photo Tristram Kenton

Goyo Montero’s Pulse also reached its full potential in the larger space. On a stripped-down stage pierced by dramatic lighting it had the intensity of a high voltage electric cable. In a work where each anonymous body needs to fully commit, the dancers did it, Montero harnessing their energy in full-on contemporary movement.

The only solo, Start Again, choreographed and performed by Kele Roberson earned its place. It was new and fresh: a young dancer’s exploration of the power and potential of his mind and body and it drew and held the huge audience.

Bomin Kim, Ginevra Zambon and Freya Wilkinsonin Mats Ek's Swan LakePhoto Tristram Kenton
Bomin Kim, Ginevra Zambon and Freya Wilkinson
in Mats Ek’s Swan Lake
Photo Tristram Kenton

More contemporary dance came in Mats Ek’s very idiosyncratic Swan Lake as the three jesters join the Prince on his journey. Johnny Randall captured the vulnerability and anguish of the disturbed Prince while Kim, Freya Wilkinson and Ginevra Zambon well-synchronised and matched, found the comedy in the trio danced to the music of the Little Swans.

Comedy skills were again to the fore in David Bintley’s popular Scottish Dances. Taken at a blistering pace the dancers wove their feet round all the tricky moves with delightful ease. The drunken exploits of the young men to the amusement of the Sarah Keaveney and Zambon hit just the right spot and the duet found romantic fulfilment in the warmth of Xinyue Zhao and Matthew Bates’ performance.

The Royal Ballet School in Alistair Marriott's Simple SymphonyPhoto Tristram Kenton
The Royal Ballet School in Alistair Marriott’s Simple Symphony
Photo Tristram Kenton

Two more works by English choreographers: Ashley Page’s Untied, Undone and Alistair Marriott’s Simple Symphony, showed the students’ prowess in non-traditional ballet. Using Benjamin Britten’s score and a cast of superlative dancers, Marriott crafts a delightful work of ingenious double work, and unconventional combinations. Sofia Linares Vazquez and Daichi Ikarashi are costumed in blazing orange to match their virtuosity, Lauren Hunter and Guillermo Torrijos wear vibrant pink to match their sharp-edged sophistication while Hanna Park and James Large, in fuchsia, add an emotionally charge to a duet replete with extraordinary partnering. The ensemble of six couples matched up to soloist standards in a thrilling work.

Page’s ballet is a gift for these wonderful male dancers. Matching the vibrancy of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony and like thoroughbreds let off the leash, they leap, spin and dance with untrammelled joy.

I felt rather sorry for the girls who only got Paquita, although, backed by an elaborate set, it made an impressive climax. Hanna Park and Davi Ramos led the field, prefaced by a cohort of tiny White Lodge students in a pristine Mazurka: spot-on rhythmically, arrow straight lines and swelling with pride. They were followed by an equally precise corps, sassy, stylish and technically polished.

Brigid Walker, Daichi Ikarashi and Marianna Tsembenhoiin Paquita (at Opera Holland Park)Photo Tristram Kenton
Brigid Walker, Daichi Ikarashi and Marianna Tsembenhoi
in Paquita (at Opera Holland Park)
Photo Tristram Kenton

Park’s solo, a benchmark of classical technique, was a delight. She has exquisite feet and line and most importantly she dances with joy that flowed across the orchestra pit. Ramos matched a jeté, as fierce and strong as a lethal weapon, with arms and upper body that have the elegance of a true danseur noble. A well-suited couple, they took their prime place with confidence. Daichi Ikarashi, in the pas de trois sailed through the fiendish solo. Surmounting every technical difficulty and communicating his glee in the achievement. Bomin Kim, gave attention to every detail in the steps and the music in her solo while Lauren Hunter bounded across the stage in thrilling split jetés, an accomplished technician and an exciting personality.

We will be seeing more of these dancers on the Royal Opera House stage as several are joining the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme while the rest of the graduates have gained good jobs with prestigious companies across the world.