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Ballet Bootcamp with New English Ballet Theatre

New English Ballet Theatre 2016
New English Ballet Theatre 2016
Photo by Patrick Baldwin

Well, that’s much too hard, I thought. I was watching the wonderful dancers of the New English Ballet Theatre perform a very lively section from Moonshine, choreographed by Kristen McNally, one of the five new ballets they’ll be putting on at The Peacock from 9th to 12th November 2016. They can’t be expecting us to do that. I relaxed, leaning back in my chair, in their rehearsal space at the Lanterns Studio Theatre in Canary Wharf. I expect they’ll want us to pretend to be a tree or something, at the back.

It turned out to be much more than alright in the end but the New English Ballet Theatre team did want us to do that. Five other dance critics or bloggers and me, swapping roles with these marvellous dancers. Us on the equivalent of a hot lit stage, making our moves, them waiting for us to be through.

We were all in it together then. The other five and me. Except we weren’t. The criteria described for the ballet bootcamp had been no previous experience required but it turned out the others were all practising adult ballet dancers in proper ballet shoes and kit and everything. I was in my socks and gym gear, not having done ballet since I was six years old. I could still remember third position though.

We were set to barre work by the NEBT ballet mistress, Jessica Edgley, charming from the start. On hearing of my distinctly unimpressive dance cv she had smiled and said comfortingly, you’ll be alright. I was not certain I believed her but decided to get on with the job in hand, which was to follow her instructions as closely as possible.

Second position. I reached back into my five-year-old brain. I could do this. Fifth position. Oh, I couldn’t, my feet were in a tangle that wouldn’t accept the instructions of my brain looking into the reverse image of the mirror. I hadn’t got even to fourth position before I’d been shipped off to do horse riding lessons with my brothers instead.

It was at this point in the proceedings some photographs of us were taken. You’ll know which one of us is me because I’m the one doing something different from all the others. In every single picture.

Jessica, by now having got the measure of the others grace and my incompetence, set about teaching us the routine I’d thought must be impossible for me to learn. She did this by breaking it into slow motion sections for us to copy, as we simultaneously watched her in front of us and also ourselves in the full-length mirrors, to the constant count of eight paced beats. The others were brilliant of course but I’d have to interrupt the proceedings constantly. Show me that head nod again, please. That sort of thing. Jessica would find a single word to describe what she wanted, providing clarity, patience personified every time. But then she wanted us to go faster. Alright. Then fast. Then faster still. Quite a few of us were muttering in alarm by then. She took no notice. We could do it. She knew we could.

Three learnt sections in, intense concentration turned to outright concern as it became apparent there was yet more to be memorised and strung together. Limits of what I expected to be able to do had been more than reached.

Karen Pilkington-Miksa, the founding and Artistic director of the NEBT, so encouraging from the sidelines, was nodding yes. You’re learning this so fast, doing so well. Towards the end of our instruction, Jessica taught us what she told us was her favourite section of the routine. Which partly involved me bobbing up and down, pretending to look through a telescope. I enjoyed that too. Also skipping around my stationary dance partner flat-footedly.

We were finished, we thought. Oh no, we weren’t. Would you be prepared to dance for the dancers? Up to now safely hidden away from sight in a side room. There were particular side-long looks at me by Jessica, checking my response. I shrugged, I’ve spent my time doing other things, not dancing. I don’t mind.

But then they settled themselves alongside us as an elegantly gathered audience of young, lithe, dancers, dressed in rehearsal clothes. I quailed again. What on earth was I thinking I was doing? But Karen told us, it’ll be interesting for them, watching others perform this routine. It’ll be the first time for them. So there was a point to this personal humiliation, we were helping with the show.

And, when the music started again so did we, hopping and skipping and sliding and bobbing as Jessica had taught us. Some movements were definitely missed, there was no snap and tension on my part to the end of each one, just a sense of relief it had been remembered. But it was fun. Lots of fun. And all too soon our dancing – started with such trepidation on my part, was done.

New English Ballet Theatre Day London – Bootcamp

Plaudits were handed out with generosity by the NEBT team. You learnt the routines so fast, that was wonderful. You learn faster than some of my degree students at the academy. And, it’s then you notice how invigorating and affirming appreciation is, at the end of all your risk and effort. As someone once said, applause is all performers have to take home with them at the end of a night.

Invigorated by movement we’re allowed to relax with a question and answer session with Karen Pilkington-Miksa, so warm and friendly, and Associate Artist, choreographer, George Williamson. Karen explained to us the laudable principles behind her founding of the NEBT, which is to provide a company environment for choreographers and young dancers who are part of the pool of talent attracted to London by the unique dance opportunities it offers. The importance of the EU in enabling them to come here to search for work being very significant to our incredible dance culture in London, allowing us to take advantage of the excellent dance training in other countries.

The dancers in the NEBT are given contracts for some security and the opportunity to work with selected, rising choreographers in premier locations which offer everyone concerned important exposure to take their dance careers forwards. Some of the dancers who will be in the coming show at The Peacock Theatre, were missing the day we were there. Disney wanted them. The work being done by Karen and the NEBT is wonderful, most worthy of support for certain.

George Williamson took the time to describe for us the evocative new piece, he is choreographing, Strangers, based on a poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, also to be performed at The Peacock from the 9th – 12th November. It’s about a couple, moving through different stages of a relationship in time, each partner being represented by three dancers. We were then given an opportunity to watch George work with two sets of three male dancers on a section of that piece. The work progressing organically, as the dancers followed George’s directions, until he stepped in to perform a move himself, to show how he required it be done.

Our day was done. How enjoyable it was. What a company worthy of your support and mine is the New English Ballet Theatre. With warm thanks to everyone there, most especially Karen for having us, Judy Lipsey of Premier Communications for organising it, and, of course, our brilliant ballet mistress for the
day, Jessica Edgley.

By Marian Kennedy

New English Ballet Theatre returns with a programme showcasing five new works from the UK’s top choreographic talents. The Royal Ballet’s Marcelino Sambé creates his first work for NEBT to the music of Nathan Halpern. The Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally and Valentino Zucchetti return to choreograph new pieces, with Zucchetti featuring music by Rachmaninoff, performed live by emerging pianist Anne Lovett.

Daniela Cardim Fonteyne creates a dynamic new piece, highlighting the physicality and youthful energy of the company’s dancers, while English National Ballet Associate Artist George Williamson presents Foreign, a new work based on Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, set to Brahms’ cello sonata and played live.

New English Ballet Theatre
Quint-essential: Five New Ballets
9 Nov – 12 Nov 2016
The Peacock, Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2A 2HT, London


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