• Naomi Cockshutt

Royal Ballet School Summer Performances

June 29, 2017 | Opera Holland Park

The Royal Ballet School in Les Sylphides at Opera Holland Park

© The Royal Ballet School/Johan Persson

Founded by Dame Ninette de Valois more than ninety years ago, The Royal Ballet School is one of the greatest centres of classical ballet training in the world. From the age of eleven, students train full-time in classical ballet alongside their regular academic studies, following the School’s own eight-year System of Training.

The younger students based at White Lodge, Richmond Park are taught classical, pas de deux, pointe work, character, contemporary, gymnastics, strength and body conditioning, as well as folk dance and choreographics. From sixteen, students embark on a three year programme in Covent Garden at the Upper School, located not only opposite, but also linked to the Royal Opera House by the Bridge of Aspiration above Floral Street.

Here, solos and variations as well as improvisation and an intensive upper body programme for boys are introduced, preparing graduates for a career with the world’s leading dance companies. Under the Artistic Directorship Christopher Powney since September 2014, the School continues to present its annual Summer Performances, showcasing both newly commissioned and heritage work from the Royal Ballet repertoire and from companies of international acclaim, spanning the classical, contemporary and character genres.

Recreating a 1820s dancing class at the Paris Conservatoire, students of all ages perform an enchanting excerpt from The Conservatory (also known as Konservatoriet, Le Conservatoire or The Dancing School). This two-act vaudeville ballet was created by the Danish choreographer and ballet master August Bournonville in 1849 for the Royal Danish Ballet to music by Holger Simon Paulli. Continuing with the Danish theme, Year 10 and Year 11 boys gleam in Danish-born Erik Bruhn’s fast moving and technically challenging maritime number Here We Come, created for Canada’s National Ballet School in 1978 to music by the American composer Morton Gould.

Moving to the contemporary genre, the 1st Year Upper School students dynamically ensemble in alumnus, Jonathan Watkins’ neoclassical creation Onwards to Benjamin Ellin’s 1st Movement of Sinfonia No.1. Wearing stretchy costumes, Katharina Nikelski and Harris Bell, both 2nd Year Upper School students gracefully twist into labyrinthine shapes in Dutch choreographer and former Rambert dancer Didy Veldman’s See Blue Through.

Inspired by the “mysteries of underwater life”, this undulating duet is choreographed to Alfred Schnittke’s Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra. More akin to physical theatre than a spectacle of contemporary technique, Upper School students form a seated arc in the modern dance number Echad Mi Yodea, choreographed by Israeli contemporary dancer and Artistic Director of Tel Avivian Batsheva Dance Company Ohad Naharin. His ritualistic piece to thirteen verses of Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One), a traditional song, sung on the Jewish holiday of Passover is from the 1990 work Kyr meaning ‘wall’ in Hebrew, a collaboration with the Israeli rock group The Tractor’s Revenge.

White Lodge students celebrate traditional folk dances with Tania Fairbairn’s Russian Souvenir, which opens to a young student arranging Russian dolls at the front of the stage. Furthering the strong accented theme, Year 9 students exhibit a joyful Mazurka entitled Vivace to Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite, followed by a melodious presentation of Irish and Spanish dancing in Donna Phillips’ The 31st Reel (Year 8 and Year 9) and Sherrill Wexler’s Alma Serena (Year 10 and Year 11).

Returning to the classical repertoire, 2nd Upper School student Rebecca Blenkinsop is fittingly cast as the delicate and sensitive lead in Dame Monica Mason’s production of Fokine’s Romantic ballet Les Sylphides to Chopin, accompanied by Elizabeth Sluman. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his death, brightly-clothed Upper School students perform Kenneth MacMillan’s virtuoso one-act ballet in three movements; Concerto to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102.

Premièred by the Staatsballett Berlin in 1966, Alice Bellini and Harrison Lee lead the energetic First Movement, followed by the sublimely iconic pas de deux of the Andante Second Movement, in which Yu Hang and Nicholas Landon exquisitely display MacMillan’s modern choreographic lines. Principal Nadia Mullova-Barley skillfully commands the corps de ballet in the Allegro Third Movement, bringing the work and the Summer Performance to an exultant close.

Published on londondance.com