Monday, 12 July 2010

The Royal Ballet School Annual Matinee

The Royal Ballet School

Annual Matinee
Royal Opera House
11th July 2010

The incomparable Défilé
Photograph :  Johan Persson

Gailene Stock, Director of the Royal Ballet School (RBS) says that this performance is the highlight of the year for all concerned. It’s mine too. It fair takes my breath away to see how accomplished the students are and how high they have set the bar. You might think that the students have ample performance opportunities; this is not always the case and is especially so on the Royal Opera House stage – quite possibly the largest they will have encountered, where it takes an impressive dancer to carry all the way to the back of the amphi. The School offers places on merit alone; whether the student has what it takes to be a professional ballet dancer. Nothing beats being able to see exactly what it takes for yourself.

The curtain parted to reveal a blue background and bare stage with young girls in dazzling white tutus and the boys in black shorts. Introducing L’École, with 40 dancers in total, dancing to excerpts from the First & Fourth Movements of Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite no.4, Mozartiana, filling the stage in various patterns with some great turns from the girls, who generally did better than the boys (who still have much physical development to complete before they can be truly steady). The piece is choreographed by the Lower School’s Principal, Diane van Schoor, and much credit goes to Carole Leicester for the eye-catching costumes. I did notice lovely Eleanor Ferguson, who you may recall from last year’s Gala at the School, where she was chosen to present a bouquet to HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

Elyella, choreographed by Antonio Castilla, begins in semi-darkness, but you can make out the glittering necklines of the girls otherwise black costumes. Sean Bates was outstanding – perfectly strong and seamless arabesques & careful partnering with IIeana Riveron. At one point the other dancers (19 of them) form a circle around her and Bates jets off around them with a thrilling circle of jetés. The couple end the piece with Riveron in classic ‘6 o’clock legs’, which she makes look easy; bang on the music.

Photograph :  Johan Persson

Toccata, choreographed by Royal Ballet dancer Liam Scarlett, shows four girls and three men in long flowing dresses of rust and dust shades, at odds with the slightly clockwork feel of the music, syncronised turns & fast footwork. All four girls end the dance in a high lift, held in perfect time by their partners, and then in silhouette. I’ll mention several of these dancers again, but I particularly noticed Angela Wood, Nicole Cato, Barry Drummond and Sander Blommaert. This piece was really popular with the audience.

Photograph :  Johan Persson

If you enjoy William Forsythe’s In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, then you can’t fail to love Fractals, created as it was in 2008 for San Francisco Ballet trainees who took part in a Forsythe workshop as part of the School’s summer session. The scene is set with just a slit of light skimming the floor, reminding me of a foggy November evening where the darkness folds into the stage, with a couple standing either side of it. As the backdrop turns red, Parrish Maynard’s choreography, allied with Kenneth Kirschner’s March 3, 1993, has the dancers slowly, sensually turning; there’s something almost humid about it. Dancers appear on stage swooping low, sometimes shrugging a loose shoulder or standing casually in groups or alone. There are some ingenious lifts in the pas de deux sections. Special mention to Claudia Dean, who made the stage her own, and to teacher David Peden who staged and rehearsed the work. Credit too to Gina Scott, whose strong feet, stable balances, confidence and ability lit up the stage. The costumes, if you can call them that, were black footless tights and blue or green fitted tops with large black shorts; the boys in black shorts with a jazzy blue strip down the sides.

One of the things I admire the School for is their fearlessness to perform demanding works that are not pure dance but need more, exposing the students to drama & emotion. Last year they did it superbly with The Dream; this year we have teenagers dancing Jardin Aux Lilacs, Antony Tudor’s pint-sized ballet with adult emotions - which the students can’t possibly have any idea of - based as it is on complex nuances about a marriage of convenience. This is the only ballet with a set – a deep green forest of trees with a waxy moon glowing through the glade. Gorgeous costumes too – long flowing dresses that moved like flowing water with the dancers. The music is the beautiful Poéme for violin by Chausson. The Bride to be (Caroline); Her Lover; The Man She Must Marry; An Episode in His Past – characters that tell a story straight away but still, it’s a story that demands an adult interpretation. I loved Angela Wood, who has beautiful feet, and Imogen Chapman who has strong balances and a beautiful line, and I also found myself watching Nicole Cato, Emily Downs & the quite wonderful James Butcher, who is off to the Royal Ballet and it’s not hard to see why. I’d like to see Chapman dance Manon or Diana (from Diana & Acteon); she’s off to Scottish Ballet and the British companies don’t favour these ballets, but we’ll see. I must mention too, William Bracewell, as Her Lover; he is off to Birmingham Royal Ballet and I can see him enjoying their rep – story ballets suit him. There is a very moving moment when Caroline reaches out to try to touch Her Lover and An Episode in His Past, but can’t quite reach them. The ballet ends with a likeness of Manon; Her Lover with his back to the audience, foot crossed behind, head to one side (in Manon, Lescaut sits in a similar pose).

Jardin Aux Lilacs
Photograph :  Johan Persson

Dawn of Youth, Samantha Raine’s ballet (another RB dancer), with Elgar’s The Wand of Youth accompanying 32 dancers on stage, starts off brightly with girls in dusty blue leotards and boys in white tops. The arrival of 12 girls in scarlet livens things up further, with the older girl’s en pointe. There was an excellent shoulder lift – not easy to pull off – and the ballet ends with 6 girls held aloft by their partners, all in a row, perfectly fitting the music which had been going at quite a lick. Special mention has to go to Georgia Ware, Diva Hollands, Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Lily Spencer and Barnaby Rook Bishop.

MacMillan’s Concerto is well known and The Royal Ballet company dances it superbly. No surprise then that the slow pas de deux was showcased by the aforementioned Imogen Chapman and Sander Blommaert, who is off to the RB for the new season, with great partnering and lifts. The orange costumes bring the stage alive, and the corp of yellow look sensational. I particularly noticed a blond-haired girl (whose name I do not know) who reminds me of the RB’s Bethany Keating. I’ll be watching out for her ! The men are head to toe in red, and the endless procession of jetés across the stage and the ease with which they throw them off is staggering. Claudia Dean works her own spotlight to great effect in the Third Movement, with extensions that seem to come from nowhere, and I’ve already mentioned the wonder that is Sean Bates, who danced the Third Movement with aplomb.  I also picked out Laura Day in the First and Third Movement; I'd like to see more of her dancing.

And then to the Défilé. Every person in the audience had been waiting for this, and some couldn’t resist flouting the rules to take photographs. With swashbuckling music, Etudes by Karl Czerny, and choreographed by the wonderful staff of The Royal Ballet School, it starts with the very smallest girls and boys in fluffy pink and pale blue (the flame haired boy looks a wonderful character), and flies through the ranks with girls in red and boys in white shirts and blue bottoms, 11 boys in black, 14 girls in blue, this time en pointe, light pink tutus , blue tutus, 11 couples - with the central couple throwing off a fish dive as though it’s something they would throw off before breakfast - girls in dark blue tutus in high lifts with their partners, red tutus; more and more until finally every dancer is on stage, in rows that the Swan Lake Cygnets would be proud of, according to their year in the School. The audience exploded and so ended the final year for the Graduates.

It’s awe-inspiring, every time, to realise that throughout the performance, my mind effortlessly segues to Company performances I’ve seen and where I can see these students easily transpose themselves onto those professional dancers.


  1. OMG, I cannot even imagine how magnificent this must have been.

    I would love to have seen the last scene with the very smallest girls and boys with every dancer on stage. Oh, it makes you want to cry, doesn't it? To see so many students who have worked so hard in this performance.

    I teared up as I read this post, I could feel your passion in every word. I felt like I was there. Oh that I could have been.


  2. Really beautiful post, darling!
    Eloquent and exquisitely illustrated ~ love that photo with the red background -- what an incredible pose she is in!


  3. The girl doing the fish dive in the defile was Nicole Cato. And KarenHarveyCox - you can see the defile - someone's posted it on YouTube - it's not the same as being there, but will give you a feel for it.

    It was a wonderful afternoon - the students are so well "drilled" and I was particularly impressed with the lower school this year, more so than in previous years.

  4. KarenHarveyCox - thank you. I'm so glad it came across. Everyone taking part - including the backstage staff, did a sterling job.

    Couture Carrie - Johan Persson is one of the best, if not the best, dance photographer around.
    You know I only use the best on BALLET NEWS !

    JulieW - thank you for identifying the dancer. Unless you have frequest access to the School it's very hard to identify all the dancers, but I would prefer to be able to. Regarding the video; it could be argued that it is disrespectful to those taking part to film the performance without permission. Do you know whether the person who filmed and posted this video had permission ?

  5. You know, I've always been fascinated by ballet dancers, but reading your blog helps me understand this world a little better. The images are always stunning too! have a lovely day.

  6. Thanks for giving us all this information.

  7. Thank you so much for all your crafted words captured superbly the essence of each a lifelong follower of opera, I am now clueing myself up on this beautiful art-form and putting movement, sound, colour, atmosphere, expertise, practice, panache, grace and elegance into some sort of perspective is a great new challenge for me.

    I was lucky enough to be there...and your words catapult me back there in a flash....the goosebumps reappear and that splendid inner glow recurs.

    Thank you so much.


  8. Lovely review so enjoyed reading it. I have seen the end of year performance twice and found it to be so impressive and emotional. Gailene Stock is really an amazing director and does an incredible job putting it all together. I wish them all the very best of luck they will NEVER forget their days at RBS!

  9. Amazing, simply amazing. How beautiful and exciting for all the dancers. I wish you could have video taped it, but I know that is a huge No No. The colors, the music and the dance steps all coming together must have been so gorgeous to watch. I give all of those dancers credit, you can see the hope in all of their faces.
    Love this.

  10. Im sorry to contradict JulieW's comment but the girl in blue doing the fish dive was in fact Evie Ball, it is true though that Nicole Cato did do a fish dive later in the defile.

  11. Pinecone Camp - thank you ! Lovely to hear

    Anne - you are most welcome ! thank you for reading.

    brion ferguson - thank you Brian, much appreciated

    Andrea - that's true !

    Cheryl - there is only one answer - to be there !!!

    Anonymous - yes, there was definately more than one fish dive

  12. What part did Eleanor Ferguson play in L'école? Which one was she?

  13. Anon - thank you for your comment. It would be useful if you could say who you are, whether you were there, whether you know Eleanor and the reason for your interest.

  14. I'm a ballet mum, I was there, and I wondered which one you thought she was, to see why you commented on her in particular. just wondering what caught your eye on her in l'Ecole.

  15. Well, "Ballet Mum" - I'm sorry that I don't have your name. With such young dancers it's very hard for them to show off much more than basic classroom steps, and I think for the girls at that age it's easier (relatively speaking) than for the boys because theyhave so much more development to go before they can be really secure. So if someone stands out then it's worth saying so. What I look for is good feet (a well shaped foot/ankle in relation to calf)and line of neck and head carriage. Hope that helps !

  16. It does, but I'd still like to know which one you think, or know, she was?
    Was she one of the three girls who partnered boys in the pas de deux?
    We also loved Anna-Rose O'Sullivan and Evie Ball.

  17. Anon - I will have a look through my notes when I get the chance & see whether I noted her positions. I'm sure you will appreciate that I've seen a lot of ballet since this performance. I know that Anna-Rose is doing very well but I do not recall either of the girls you mention being in the first piece.


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