If I had the resources – and, more pertinently, the actual inclination – I’d do a few focus groups: what do people think when presented with a concept like Ballet Nights? What does the title make people think? Is there still an aura of inaccessibility when it comes to ballet? Is it best left to those who were born with silver spoons in their mouths, and have acquired an intricate knowledge of the genre from a very early age? Why was I tempted, faced with a sudden interruption of service on the London Underground on my way to Ballet Nights, and the possibility of missing the start or even the entire first half, to turn round, go home, and see whatever was left of the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing? Evidently, I made it after all, just about, and what I discovered was something very different from the stuffy, stilted and snobby evening it might have been.
There was a clear passion for dance amongst the company, and a commitment to present a diverse range of performances. The house pianist, Viktor Erik Emanuel, opened both parts with some brisk and energetic piano solos. The ballets themselves were all brief extracts: rather like speed dating, the programme moves on to the next performance, and the next one, and so on, and it’s entirely up to patrons if they want to explore a particular work in greater depth at some point in the future.
Having each of the pieces introduced, albeit briefly, was incredibly helpful – as ever with dance, so much is left to the audience’s interpretation. It was nonetheless useful to have some context. Take, for instance, ‘Heisei 9’, which saw Constance Devernay-Laurence spin and move around the stage at a frenetic pace. You’d have been forgiven for thinking it resembled a chaotic life, with any number of things happening at both personal and professional levels, such that the dancer is constantly trying to keep up with the pressures and strains of a stressful life. But Jordan James Bridge’s choreography is actually based on the pleasures and thrills of a computer game, the movements resembling a player battling, willingly, in competition.
‘Of Silence’ from the McNicol Ballet Collective was intriguing to me, as Winnie Dias and James Stephens performed a dance that was all about providing support for one another. Completely devoid of conflict, it was a work of beauty that contrasted with so much of the bad blood going on in the world at large. Had it been a play, I might have torn it to shreds – where is the dramatic tension? Everyone getting along nicely – how boring is that? Give me a dystopian musical to enjoy instead! But, on the dancefloor, watching the duo support one another, physically as well as psychologically, there was something delightful about mutual cooperation.
Some in the audience will have seen Musa Motha on Britain’s Got Talent, where he reached the final of Series 16. Not being familiar with BGT, I didn’t know his ‘backstory’, and so it was only part-way through his performance of ‘Depth of Healing’, a self-choreographed dance, that I realised he was dancing with one leg (he did not use his crutches for this piece). Motha was diagnosed with bone cancer in his childhood and had one leg amputated in a life-saving operation, but this didn’t stop him from pursuing a dance career, even if his dreams of professional sportsmanship had to be let go.
‘UTOPIA (The Way Inside)’, a self-choreographed dance performed by Yasser D’Oquendo, was probably the most poignant piece of the evening. It came with a sense of longing, with brief sound effects of a child’s voice, and a sense of hope, as did the headline dance, ‘Metamorphosis 1’, which made its UK premiere at Ballet Nights. Choreographed by David Dawson, the dance was remarkably fluid: there is both unity and moments of separation and even the occasional whispered remark.
There was so much more – take, for instance, the gloriously exaggerated costumes and Scott Joplin’s ragtime music in ‘Elite Syncopations’, and to misquote the serenity prayer for recovery, the acceptance of that which cannot be changed and the courage to change what can, in James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight’s ‘In the Absence’. In the absence, so to speak, of any negatives, full marks for this eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable night out.
Review by Chris Omaweng
BALLET NIGHTS 2023 is the creation of producer and former Scottish Ballet soloist Jamiel Devernay-Laurence.
STEVEN MCRAE MELISSA HAMILTON & RYOICHI HIRANO (29th) MELISSA HAMILTON & REECE CLARKE (30th) CONSTANCE DEVERNAY-LAURENCE NEW ENGLISH BALLET THEATRE EDD MITTEN & AMY THAKE JORDAN JAMES BRIDGE GEORGE LIANG & JULIE NUNES.
Piano/Viktor Erik Emanuel
Piano/Viktor Erik Emanuel
LANTERNS STUDIO THEATRE Great Eastern Enterprise
3 Millharbour, London E14 9XP