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Ballet West Showcase 27 May 2018 19:30 Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling
Each winter for the last 5 years I have come to Scotland to see a performance of a full-length classical ballet by Ballet West. On Sunday I returned to Scotland for Ballet West's 2018 Showcase.
The Showcase took the form of a gala consisting of 18 separate works divided into two parts or "acts". Each act began with an extract from a classical ballet and included a solo and original choreography by the school's teachers, Natasha Watson, Indra Reinholde and Martin Fenton. Ballet West performed the Showcase at the Conran Halls in Oban on 19 May 2018 and the Macobert Arts Centre at Stirling University on 27 May 2018.
The first act opened with the grand pas de deux from Paquita which I had seen in rehearsal on my visit to Taynuilt on 30 April 2019. The full work is not performed very often in the United Kingdom but the pas de deux is seen more frequently in competitions and galas. As in the rehearsal Paquita was danced by Uyu Hiromoto and Lucien by Joseph Wright. I admire both dancers but especially Hiromoto. As I wrote in Ballet West at the Beacon 13 Feb 2017 which was the first time I saw her, Hiromoto has a certain quality that is difficult to pin down but I spotted it in Xander Parish and Michalea DePrince. She danced delightfully on Sunday. In her dancing I saw not just a talented and accomplished student but Paquita herself. Congratulations to Wright for his partnering and also to the soloists and corps de ballet who accompanied them.
The solo for the first act was the victim's dance from The Rite of Spring. It was performed by Francesca Rees who is still in her first year at Ballet West. The sharp, angular, movements to Stravinaky's throbbing score still manage to shock after 105 years. It cannot be an easy work to perform even for an experienced dancer and it must be particularly challenging for one so young. Rees responded to that challenge splendidly. She is clearly someone to watch and I shall look out for her on next year's winter tour.
Watson contributed no less than five works to the the first act They ranged from Symphony No 3 which was reflective to Who Lights the Sun which was playful. The contrast in mood was the difference between a deep, dark, pool and a fountain. Until last night the only work by Watson that I had seen was the piece that she had prepared for Oscar Ward and Uyu Hiromoto in the BBC Young Dancer Competition. Having seen her several times in principal roles and having blogged about her achievements in Lausanne and at the Genée even before I saw her I knew that she was an outstanding dancer. Now I see that she is at least as talented as a dance maker. The nation's - indeed the world's - artistic directors, impresarios, angels and others who commission dance would do well to take note.
Hey Now by Martin Fenton was in complete contrast to everything that had gone before. The programme stated that the music was by "London Generation" but I wonder whether that should have been "London Grammar". Be that as it may it was a pleasure to watch. The girls wore jeans and trainers with their hair in pony tails. They danced freely and vivaciously. It was the first time I had seen them like that. I was delighted.
One of most interesting works of the first act was Indra Reinholde's November to Max Richter's music. This was a fluent classical piece for third year dancers. Reinholde's A Mid-Autumn Night's Dream appeared to be an intriguing study of the unfulfilled aspirations. It consisted of a soloist with one group dancing reality and the other dreams. With layer upon layer of meaning I need to see it again and probably several times to understand it properly.
The first act finished with Sarajevo, a piece that Watson had made for the company's Glasgow Associates to Max Richter's score. A deeply moving piece that those excellent young students performed brilliantly.
The second act opened with the scene from La Sylphide in which James abandons Effie and follows the sylph. The work is performed regularly overseas but rarely in the UK which is odd as it is set in Scotland. We may see more of it in future as it has been staged recently by English National Ballet and Sir Matthew Bourne has produced Highland Fling for Scottish Ballet which is based on La Sylphide. Dylan Waddell, whom I knew from MurleyDance and Ballet Cymru, danced James and Sarah Nolan was the sylph. Nolan performed her role charmingly. I think hers will be yet another name to watch. Waddell partnered her sensitively enabling her to shine. In what I believe to be a variation to Bournonville's choreography, the ballet mistress, Olga Savienko, created roles for the sylphs which they performed delightfully.
Watching a Scottish company perform that beautiful work just south of the Highland line gave me considerable personal satisfaction. As long ago as August 2013 I wrote in Taynuilt - where better to create ballet:
"I don't know whether Ballet West has ever thought of staging La Sylphide but they might because Taynuilt is Gurn and Effie territory."Well now they have and I am over the moon.
The solo for the second act was From Within by Hortense Malaval who is in the second year. It had been created for her by Watson. A very different work from the Rite of Spring but probably no less challenging. Malaval displayed not only considerable virtuosity but also the power to possess a stage and command an audience. The audience warmed to her and rewarded her with thunderous applause.
The solo was followed by three more works by Reinholde: Light and Ash, A Song of Sorrow and Pride and, my favourite of her works, Symphony No 41. The last work was created for the young women who had welcomed me to their class on 30 April 2018. They were my team. They had a difficult score. Late Mozart to me sounds a little like Beethoven and that's what I thought it was. I remembered one of the pundits at Northern Ballet's symposium on narrative ballet on the alleged impossibility of dancing to Beethoven yet here were these splendid young dancers doing just that. Or at least interpreting music that was equally difficult. Clad in flowing blue garments that must have been a delight to wear, they were clearly having fun. They danced with verve and my heart danced with them. They finished the piece on their backs as the lights cut. Bravissime! I clapped and clapped until my palms were raw.
A work that reminded me of van Manen's In the Future was Watson/s Pocket Calculator. Just listen to the words "I'm the operator of the pocket calcuulator". Watson spun those works in a generally fun slightly disconcerting work that showed yet another side of her immense creativity. The song also began the finale that drew the audience into the show. They clapped rhythmically to the music breaking into deafening applause as each wave of artists appeared to take their bow. Again, I clapped enthusiastically and shouted "brave, brave" for the women in blue.
I had seen the winter shows. I had even visited the school, watched and indeed attended one of its classes. But it was only on Sunday that I fully appreciated how good it was. In that Showcase the school showed the strength and depth of the artistic education that it offers. Had I any aptitude for dance and an ambition to go on stage, I should have loved to have studied there.