Ballet Central, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds 2 May 2015
Every year at about this time the final year students of Central School of Ballet set out on tour. They call themselves Ballet Central and they are good. I saw the class of 2013 at The Lowry and was very impressed (see Central Forward 25 March 2013). I like to see young dancers at the start of their careers because they are full of energy and hope. That is why I support Ballet West in this country and the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet in the Netherlands. I particularly like to see Ballet Central because so many of my favourite dancers and choreographers trained at Central. When the 2015 tour started the dancers at Northern Ballet who had trained at Central tweeted their good wishes. They seemed to be a very large part of the company.
Yesterday Ballet Central came to the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. Their visit clashed with the last appearance of Kenneth Tindall as a principal of Northern Ballet in Wuthering Heights at Milton Keynes (see Au Revoir rather than Goodbye 29 April 2015). Tindall, who trained at Central, is one of my favourite dancers and I was torn. "You can see Ballet Central any time" urged Mel, "this is the last time you can see Kenny." She added that he would be partnering Julie Charlet as Cathy. The trouble is that one can't see Ballet Central any time because this year's students will scatter to the four winds. Many will go abroad. I have been lucky enough to see Tindall in several performances in the last year or so and I shall be seeing The Architect again next Saturday. I opted for Central to see the stars of the future some of whom may well dance in Tindall's ballets. I think a fine choreographer will understand that.
I am glad I chose to stay in Leeds because the theatre was packed. Northern Ballet has a special connection with Central because the company's artistic director Christopher Gable founded the school. I spotted several familiar faces from both Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre in the audience. Ballet Central acknowledged the connection first by performing Gable's Blue Pas de Deux from his 1993 production of Cinderella to Philip Feeney's gorgeous score. We actually had Feeney at the piano throughout the show. Also, they danced Code by our own Sharon Watson, artistic director of Phoenix.
The evening began with Four by Christopher Hampson. Hampson is another of my favourite choreographers particularly since be became artistic director of Scottish Ballet which I have followed ever since the late 1960s when I was an undergraduate at St Andrews (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). I am a Friend of that company and it has a special place in my affections. In the programme notes Hampson wrote:
"The piano work by Graham Fitkin in bursting with energy and I've been waiting a long while (since my student days) to find the right moment to create it. Finding four dancers at Central that can match the energy and drive of the four hands of the piano meant that I had found the time and the place to create Four."Hampson certainly found the right dancers in Sayaka Ishibashi, Julie Nunes, Ryan Brown, Yoshimasa Ikezawa and Marcus Romanelli, Clad in simple black and purple leotards designed by Richard Gellar the ballet began with solos by each of the men followed by each of the women momentum building up all the time. They all came together as the pace accelerated. It was the best possible start for the show.
The momentum was maintained by Bradley Shelver's Duet from Scenes danced energetically by Londiwe Khoza and Mthuthuzeli November to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. You can catch a bit of the choreography on the choreographer's showreel. There was a lot of clapping and slapping and even a roar from November. An insert in the programme explained that they were from Cape Dance Company in South Africa on an 8 week residency at Central. These fine young dancers were exciting to watch and I hope that they will find some reason to stay, or at least make frequent visits to, this country.
By contrast the Blue Pas de Deux from Cinderella was flowing and lyrical. Danced beautifully by Kanako Nagayoshi in sparkly blue evening dress and shoes and Ruaidhri Maguire in tails this piece had me close to tears. I remember Gable and miss him so. Northern Ballet now has a new Cinderella by David Nixon which is also beautiful (see Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph! 27 Dec 2013 and Cinderlla - even better 30 Nov 2014). But what wouldn't I give to see Gable's version again.
The first part of the evening was brought to an end with a great performance of Watson's Code. Ishibashi, Khoza, Brown and November were in that work as well as Diana Patience and Kai Tomiaka. Again, that was thrilling to watch. I am a great fan of Watson and can't see enough of her work.
The second part of the evening was started by Kit Holder's Hopper which, I see, was supported by Central Friends one of whom is Susan Dalgetty Ezra who chairs the London Ballet Circle. To understand the ballet you need to know that Edward Hopper was an American artist who painted everyday scenes of American life much in the way that his near contemporary L S Lowry did here, albeit in a very different style. I can think of no better introduction to his work than this video by the US National Gallery of Art. In the programme notes Holder wrote:
"the ballet extrapolates the scenarios portrayed in some [of] his most well known paintings bringing to life characters otherwise frozen in time."This ballet reminded me very much of Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man which was a study of Lowry (see Northern Ballet's "A Simple Man" 14 Sep 2013). Just as many of the matchstick men came to life in Lynne's work so Hopper's subjects did in Holder's. Brown danced Hopper while Lydia Mackenzie danced Jo who must have been his wife, Josephine Nivison, who was also a painter. Summer Evening was danced by Nunes and Connor Taylor, Conference at Night by Nagayoshi, Maguire and George Kyaing and Chop Suey by Brianna Hicke and Kyomi Ishubashi. This is the second work by Holder that I have seen recently. The first was To Fetch a Pail of Water which was part of Ballet Black's triple bill at The Linbury (see Ballet Black's Best Performance Yet 17 Feb 2015).
The next work was the grand pas de deux from Gorsky's La Fille mal Gardée which is very different from the Ashton version with which we are so familiar (see The Best Fille Ever 18 April 2015). For a start it uses different music: Ludwig Hertel's score instead of Lanchbery's but it is just as delightful to hear. There was plenty of scope to show off Ikezawa's jumping and Sayaka Ishiboshi's charm on pointe. It would be nice to see the Russian version more often and I have encouraged one British company to stage it.
The second part was rounded off with Christopher Bruce's Morning and Moonlight to the music of Benjamin Britten. Folk are very rude about Britten's score for Prince of the Pavilions (see Lear with a Happy Ending - Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas 30 Jan 2014 31 Jan 2014) though I like it well enough for it was chosen by Cranko. In any case Britten's music was just right here. I loved the choreography executed brilliantly by Kyomi Ishibashi, Nagayoshi, Nunes, Maguire, Taylor and Tomika.
The last part of the programme was devoted to Christopher Marney's Scenes from a Wedding. I expect a lot from Marney and I drive literally all over the country to see his work. Last year I got into a lot of trouble with one of the regulars on a forum to which I subscribe occasionally when I wrote that Chris Marney is my favourite living British choreographer. He retorted with a long list of living British choreographers the intention no doubt being to take country mouse from Huddersfield down a peg or three. A number of other subscribers (all Londoners incidentally) chimed in. Being a lawyer I chose my words carefully. I didn't say "best" for who am I to judge and I qualified "favourite" with British for my favourite living choreographer has got to be van Manen. Nor did I say favourite of all time because that is Cranko. But I am prepared to defend everything else. I've seen a lot of ballet over the last 50 years and I must have learned enough in that time to form an informed opinion. Marney reminds me of Cranko and the exciting thing about him is that he is still a very young man with bags of potential. I think there is every chance that he will go as far as Cranko and maybe further. I expected Scenes to be good and I was not disappointed.
It was a lovely, narrative ballet about a man in love. He was danced by Andrei Teodor Iliescu. He had a lovely girlfriend in Megan Pay clad in red. He bought her a ring and proposed to her. But she wasn't ready. Neither were Kyomi Isgibashi, Lydia Mackenzie and Nunes whom he approached on the rebound. But one girl was ready though she did not care much for the groom. She was danced by Patience. They weren't right for each other. They squabbled in bed. She wanted to sleep. He did not. They fought all the way to the church. He had his stag night with Kyaing, Maguire and Tomioka and she her hen night. Just at the last moment the girl in red turns up and they married. There thus is one less case for the Family Court.
Feeney provided the music, Gellar the costumes and Ed Railton the lighting.
Witty, lyrical and above all acutely expressive of the music it was Marney at his best. It was a tour de force, the icing on the cake, the very best of a succession of wonderful ballets. I can't think of enough superlatives.
Ballet Central will be in Margate on Friday and them Newbury next week. Sadly they are not touring Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but even if you live in those parts of the UK or in some remote corner of England get yourself to your nearest venue to see the show. They are making only one more visit to the North on 29 June 2015 when they will be at The Lowry. If you want to see some of the stars of the future here's where you should train your telescope.