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Ballet Nights 005: New Futures | Review

As the Ballet Nights house concert pianist, Viktor Erik Emanuel, continued to seemingly effortlessly play a complex and intricate piece of classical music, I was for some reason reminded of a 2011 French comedy-drama motion picture called Untouchables. The main character, Philippe is introducing his carer, Driss, to various pieces of classical music – he only really recognises one, because it is used as the hold music for the telephone helpline for the French equivalent of Universal Credit. While all the dance pieces in Ballet Nights are given context by way of introduction, nothing is said about the solo piano pieces, unaccompanied by dancers. It was interesting to read up about them afterwards, but if they’re going to be included in the show, and they’re given equal billing, they should be given equal explanation.

Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in 'White Swan'. Photo by Deborah Jaffe.
Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in ‘White Swan’. Photo by Deborah Jaffe.

The other issue remains the same as it was for the first Ballet Nights event I attended: the sightlines are not the best, given that the performance space is on the same level as the front row – that is, it is not a raised stage. There is, therefore, some fancy footwork that a substantial number of people in the audience missed out on seeing in full.

Under the guise of ‘Mystery Performer’ came a couple of dancers who held cocktail glasses whilst they performed. The dance itself was part of a show that combines food, drink and dancing – and word has it that all three come together very well, as culinary and creative consultants combine efforts to ensure the whole experience is as seamless as possible. Different flavours of cocktails were handed to front-row audience members (which did not include your reviewer, thankfully for everyone involved, particularly as the instructions were not to consume the contents) and the end result was, dare I say it, appetising.

As one might expect, the more traditional dances came across as more graceful and elegant than the more contemporary pieces. I might have been tempted, had the audience not been informed otherwise, to assume some of the more modern dances were inspired by things like boxing matches and football hooliganism. That said, one only need to look at the dance titles to get the gist – ‘Insomnia’, performed by Sophie Quay, Felicity Chadwick and Iván Merino Gaspar, and choreographed by Nicholas Shoesmith (associate choreographer at Sottish Ballet) veered quite convincingly between bursts of energy and lethargy, even if a sudden eruption of activity immediately followed by hitting the floor made me wonder if it might have been better to have called it ‘Narcolepsy’.

The flagship pieces, rounding off both halves, were performed by Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw from English National Ballet. Swan Lake is Swan Lake is Swan Lake – it’s popular because it’s so very good. The ‘White Swan’ pas de deux performed here involves the Swan Queen, Odette, go from trepidation to confidence as the Prince’s love is proven to be genuine, and given the pair recently completed an English National Ballet production of Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall, they did well to reprise it but in such a way that felt appropriate for a much more intimate performance space. The second half closer, ‘Terra / Astra’, choreographed by Ballet Nights regular Jordan James Bridge, couldn’t decide, as the title suggests if it was earthbound or spacebound. The costumes were reminiscent, at least to me, of figure skating suits – Lee and Haw made light work of some intricate movements.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of ‘Set Fast’, performed by students from the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance (Amari Webb-Martin, Evie-Leigh Savage, Lottie Hawkins, Matthew Potulski, Jemima Sparrow, Phoebe Dowglass and Rory Clarke). It all seemed a little abstract for me and left me with more questions than answers: the characters were constrained to begin with, ‘struggling’ (inverted commas mine) to move very much at all. But that wouldn’t be much of a dance if that went on, so it naturally followed that their movements, individually and collectively, increased in rapidity and fluidity. It wasn’t clear what happened in order to set them free, so to speak: was it an external force or internal willpower, or a combination? The dance itself was a pleasure to witness, mind you.

‘Jealousy’ was devised by the James Cousins Company: Cousins, of course, won an Olivier Award this year for Best Theatre Choreographer, having worked alongside Dame Arlene Phillips – who won her first Olivier at 80 years young – on the Bridge Theatre production of Guys & Dolls. This piece was performed by Brenda Lee Grech and Tom Davis-Dunn, who displayed remarkable physical strength as they held positions for long periods: it was like watching strongman acts at the circus.

There was more, including a drum kit played very enthusiastically by Guy Salim, and a mezzo-soprano, Dana Mays from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, singing an opera piece in German, but I’ve gone on a bit too long already. The Ballet Nights team are slicker than ever, and the showcase evenings seem to have hit a confident stride. Compère Jamiel Devernay-Laurence had a decent rapport with the audience, an assured and engaging presence with a level of self-assurance I’d not seen before. Perhaps taking Ballet Nights to the Ministry of Sound nightclub earlier this year made him shed the last vestiges of reservedness. Overall, this was a diverse and delightful assortment of dances.

4 stars

Ballet Nights New Futures presents the perfect mid-summer programme featuring world-class dancers, emerging artists, modern masterpieces, new creations, legacy works and live music.

The June programme celebrates modern voices in ballet, continuing the new tradition of uniquely compèred evenings of classical ballet, neo classical and contemporary dance presented up close and without compromise.

BALLET NIGHTS 005 / NEW FUTURES
28 and 29 June 2024
Lanterns Studio Theatre, London E14 9XP

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