Thursday, 31 May 2018

Ballet Central in Leeds

Standard YouTube Licence

Wendy McDermott

Ballet Central  2018 Tour 29 April 2018, 19:30 Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

It’s been a turbulent time for Ballet Central since their unimaginable announcement via social media that their tour vehicle and its contents had been stolen. The vehicle contained everything from their production equipment to over 100 unique handmade costumes. Being able to see the tour and how much work had gone into making this a professional production then to hear of their plight was pretty shocking. Since then those that follow Ballet Central will know that much of what was stolen had been retrieved and also, thanks to the generosity of many they’ve managed to raise several thousands to help pay for replacements.

I saw Ballet central perform, for the first time I might add, at the Stanley & Audrey Burton theatre in Leeds.

The show was made up of five pieces in two Acts: ‘Black Swan’ by Jenna Lee, ‘Far’ by Wayne McGregor,Valley of Shadows’ by Kenneth MacMillan, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Matthew Bourne and finally ‘Cinderella’ by Christopher Gable.

I think it’s fair to say that many will know of Swan Lake even if never having had the pleasure of seeing it. What Jenna Lee gave us in Black Swan was something very different, yet still referencing the classical ballet loved by so many with Tchaikovsky’s music and the beautiful swans (who looked marvellous in their black tutus). The mood was much darker, echoing the film The Black Swan. In this version however, it was not the ballerina that experienced the hallucinations, it was the Prince, confused and a little disoriented by what he was experiencing. Ayca Anil danced the principal role. Her technique seemed solid, the développés clean with extensions reaching the heights that we see in professional ballet companies of today. I thought her ports de bras were lovely, as were the swans' dancing in the corps, with their elegant swan arms, and I thought the acting of her character expressed the sultriness befitting of a temptress.

The second piece in the programme was a complete contrast of contemporary choreography. At times there was so much happening on the stage between the 10 dancers I didn’t know who to watch however there were dancers that stood out with their stage presence alone. As with most, if not all art, it’s subjective; contemporary is not a style that I personally favour, however if its premise is to showcase the movement of body and mind in fusion then this choreography does that. The Guardian (Luke Jennings to be precise) wrote of the piece when it appeared on stage:
“Muse too intently on notions of embodiment and you stop seeing the living bodies in front of you. They're the story, ultimately.”
It was a challenging piece for young dancers but on comparing clips from the original, they all performed with confidence and flare, speed and agility given that these students are on the cusp of their professional careers, potentially joining companies with both classical and contemporary repertoire, they need to be able to show their depth and breadth of skill in both styles. This choice of piece allowed them to do just that. There were three dancers that, for me anyway, particularly shone. Again, it was as much about their stage presence as their technique and quality of movement. Luckily one of those dancers has their photograph in the programme so easy to identify.

Act I closed with Valley of Shadows by MacMillan. Yet another personally unknown piece, though reading the synopsis it has very sad and dark undertones, the programme describing it as “the fate of an Italian Jewish family under fascism, Nazi occupation and the horrors of the death camps.”
Being a cast of four, the spotlight was on all the dancers. The cast had the fantastic fortune of being coached by Alessandra Ferri and Guy Niblett, who were original cast members when it was first performed at Covent Garden in March 1983. What a luxury for these dance students to inherit the experience and knowledge of these dancers to have it passed down to them. We had already seen Ayca Anil in the opening excerpt so her performance was assured, this time it allowed the male dancers the chance to show off their skills, in particular their partnering skills and they all performed with aplomb.

After the interval of 20 minutes, Act II opened with an excerpt of The Sleeping Beauty (Fairies Prologue). Gone were the tutus of the classic work, instead we saw costumes worthy of comic superheroes, of beautiful colour and imagination. It was a showcase indeed for the six dancers on stage and each deserved and duly received acknowledging applause from the audience, appreciative of the individual performances. Even the Princess Aurora as a baby in her cradle received applause in her own right as the crying baby which only added to the characterisation, humour and lightness of the whole piece.

The finale of the night was Christopher Gable's Cinderella and the audience were treated to a 30 minute shortened piece of this well known fairy tale. Despite the story depicting the ill treatment of Cinderella by her step mother and children, the performance felt just as much a celebration and in some ways echoed the journey that a dancer takes throughout their student life. The celebratory dance by the cast of apple pickers and wedding guests was light, airy and quite joyous to watch. In particular the green colour in the costumes reflecting the fresh apples that they had harvested that day expressed the emotion and worked well on stage, as if to say that the whole cast had now come of age in their early training careers and ready to advance into professional performers and spread their wings far and wide. Both the young and older Cinderella were emotive and expressive and i’m sure they, and all the touring company of 2018 will have careers to be proud of.

I’d like to give a mention to Rishan Benjamin and Harris Beattie as my own personal ones to follow in the future. There was another young woman in Far that unfortunately i’m unsure of her name. Looking at the cast list it was possibly Hikari Eumura (but perhaps Ballet Central would like to confirm?).

Finally, congratulations to all the performers and all those behind the scenes for making a thoroughly enjoyable evening of dance theatre.

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