If it is the case that this performance is the one that the students most look forward to throughout the year, I can say that this year the audience’s eagerness far excelled their own. The entire Graduate year has, for the third year in a row, been offered contracts with ballet companies around the world.
I’ve seen Frederick Ashton’s The Dream a good few times but I have never seen it danced as fluently and with such spriteliness and élan as this one. This is no easy ballet to pull off – and this was not a student performance.
There was a sparkling delicacy and brightness threaded through the entire cast. Elisa Badenes (now off to Stuttgart Ballet), as Titania, has technical control, beautifully arched feet and her port de bras reminded me of The Royal Ballet’s Roberta Marquez in phrasing and fluency.
Her Nocturne pas de deux with Joseph Caley, as Oberon, was pure poetry. Caley lifted Badenes high and then so slowly lowered her into the splits, several times, that she might have been sitting on a cloud, so careful was he to avoid even a tiny crumple of its pillowy softness.
This must be one of the trickiest pas de deux for any dancer, let alone a newly graduated student. (Technically, Caley is not a student but a recent graduate of the School, replacing an injured dancer, and now with Birmingham Royal Ballet). Oberon needs a quiet authority to keep everyone spellbound in his shady glade, and Caley added grace and stature.
He was helped no end by Jeremy Curnier as a quite outstanding Puck. I particularly liked his cheeky, intrepid dancing; his technical mastery evident so that he had time to play with the character. I’ve never seen Puck danced better.
Full marks must also go to Jonathan Hanks who was accomplished beyond measure en pointe as Bottom – always a real crowd pleaser but this time especially so, because his characterization as the transformed ass and his footwork were truly stellar.
Leticia Stock as Mustardseed and Shiori Kase as Cobweb were starbursts, showing a polish and twinkle that caught my eye.
The second half of the programme began with Les Jeunes Hommes, specially commissioned for this year’s performances and choreographed by Stanton Welch. The dance really does show off the strength & verve of the boys in the School, and what talent there is !
They were presented in a row, bare-chested against a blue backdrop, and it was just them and the music (Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor & solo oboe by Alaster Bentley). Each dancer used his own internal spotlight to full effect. Several of the dancers turned out perfect gargouillades, a tricky pas de chat step with a ronde de jambe on each foot.
Reawakening begins gently, with a refreshing piquancy & softly draping costumes by Carole Leicester, great lighting & lilting music (Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius). All of the dancers were young stars.
The Larina Waltz, with Tchaikovsky’s lovely music & new passages added by choreographer Ashley Page for these Graduates, showed off the five couples in classical style, dressed in shimmering white tutu’s and black tunics. Leticia Stock and Shiori Kase proved their credentials again (Stock has a contract with The Royal Ballet and Kase with English National Ballet), with clean, strong lines and assured partnering.
The Grand Défilé is a thrilling way for the students to end their year at the School, to end the show, and show off their accomplishments. Thrilling too for the audience. The music – Études by Karl Czerny, builds & builds until one after another the dancers dazzled & fizzled, with an impossibly long one handed lift here, or a series of faultless fouettés there, all to thunderous applause.
With all 220 students on stage, the Défilé is complete. So too is our admiration of the School and its remarkable achievements. What you see on stage are the best ballet students in the world. But that is only part of the story. There are many layers which the teachers skilfully weave together to nurture & develop the young dancers throughout their years at the School.