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Ballet Nights at Lanterns Studio Theatre | Review

If Cats, which premiered in 1981, was supposed to have been groundbreaking in getting musical theatre performers to move around the stage like, well, cats, the ballet world has been doing swans since Swan Lake premiered in 1877. Dying Swan, a solo piece of about four minutes first performed in 1907, is pretty much what it says it is, with Melissa Hamilton gliding gracefully while portraying the vulnerability of the character. Not every dance piece has to be about demonstrating strength and vigour, though there was plenty of that as well in this eclectic mix of the traditional and the contemporary, the classic and the avant-garde.

Ryoichi Hirano, Melissa Hamilton in MacMillan's 'Concerto' in BALLET NIGHTS. photo by Deborah Jaffe.
Ryoichi Hirano, Melissa Hamilton in MacMillan’s ‘Concerto’ in BALLET NIGHTS. photo by Deborah Jaffe.

I’m not sure what the target audience is for Ballet Nights – or even if there is one, in the sense that the performance I attended had a broad range of people in the audience, including young children (Saturday, for the record, is not a school night), with the show as a whole providing a taster of various ballet styles and emphases. Most of the eight dance pieces were either solo or duo performances, and the inclusion of solo piano pieces, one at the start of each half, showcased Viktor Erik Emanuel’s talents on a Yamaha CFIII concert grand piano. The piano, a donation to the venue by Yamaha, was previously used by Sir Elton John, and with that in mind, it sounds as incredible as one might expect. I couldn’t resist looking online to see how much one would cost on the open market (irrespective of its previous players) – there’s one going for £45,000. The free delivery perk made me smile.

The performance space is substantial, at seventeen metres squared, with some nifty lighting making sure the stage doesn’t look too big with just one or two people performing. The venue claims there are no seats with a restricted view. It is true there are no pillars in the auditorium. There were, however, moments in which some patrons found themselves craning their necks to view any action on the floor, and some footwork was occasionally difficult to see depending on one’s vantage point.

Some of the performances felt too short, but it is always better to leave the audience wanting more than to outstay one’s welcome. Csárdás, choreographed and performed by Steven McRae, a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, was a fusion of ballet and tap, the tapping itself serving as percussion alongside the violin and piano. The sheer speed of the tapping and spinning in places made me think of laundry in a washing machine during a spin cycle. In the second half, New Commission (fair play to Jordan James Bridge for calling a spade a spade) had Bridge showing remarkable flexibility and fluidity. Too grounded to represent movement in space and too speedy to represent moving through water, it reimagined to some extent the limitations of movement through air.

All in Passing, presented by the New English Ballet Theatre, seemed to be about how human interactions and relationships develop, and sometimes fall apart, and sometimes remain constant, and sometimes don’t – and so on. A couple of interesting costume choices aside (the seven-strong NEBT company were wearing jackets, but one of them had no trousers), the music was somewhat discordant, at variance with the poised and polished movements of the company.

A light-hearted feel to proceedings meant the audience came away more exhilarated than exhausted: stepping out in all directions yet retaining a classy and refined elegance, Ballet Nights is a testament to the work of its choreographers as well as its performers. It wouldn’t surprise me if it inspired one or two of the youngest members of the audience to consider becoming professional dancers themselves one day.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

BALLET NIGHTS 2023 is an expansion of Jamiel’s original one-nighter enterprise and takes place over six nights – two in September, two in October, two in November – at Lanterns Studio Theatre in Canary Wharf. The programme for each month will feature a mixed bill with performances by award-winning superstars and fast rising stars of the dance world.

Performers include: Steven McRae (Royal Ballet), Melissa Hamilton (Royal Ballet), Ryoichi Hirano (Royal Ballet), Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw (English National Ballet), Katja Khaniukova & Aitor Arrieta Coca (ENB), Constance Devernay-Laurence (ex-Scottish Ballet), Laurel Dalley Smith (Martha Graham Dance Company), Musa Motha (Rambert), Ivana Bueno (ENB) and fast rising stars including Yasser D’Oquendo, Jordan James Bridge, Felicity Chadwick, and more.



Piano/Viktor Erik Emanuel
Violin/Vasko Vassilev

Cello/Moira Hartley

Great Eastern Enterprise, 3 Millharbour, London E14 9XP

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