English National Ballet School, London, UK; December 4, 2014

David Mead

English National Ballet School’s annual December Showcase offers a chance for the students to show off their improving skills in front of a supportive audience in the School’s intimate studio theatre. It proved to be a most enjoyable evening that illustrated well the dancers’ progression through the years, and included some notable highlights.

The opening “Showcase of Class Work” was well choreographed by the teachers. Perhaps it was the many well-known faces in the audience, perhaps it was just having the audience so close, but the opening 1st Years understandably looked a little anxious at first. It wasn’t long before the nerves abated and the smiles appeared, though, and solid performances were given throughout. Among the highlights were some excellent, well-controlled turns from the 2nd and 3rd Year men; some sharp, neat petit allegro with some impressive batterie from the women – danced to a rag that seemed to put a smile on everyone’s face; and a very neat and well-placed series of fouetté turns from Kanako Ogura. The pas de deux section included some solid work from the 3rd Years, but it was 2nd Year Shiori Midorikawa and partner who really took the eye.

After a short demonstration of contemporary technique, we were treated to one or two unusual character dances taught by Olga Semenova including a Krakowiak (a fast tempo dance from Poland) from the 1st Years and a Georgian Lezginka from the 2nd Year men. Particularly interesting, and different, though, was a Persian Oriental dance from the second year women. Filled with graceful hand and arm gestures (a repeated motif had the dancers apparently placing something in the palm of one hand with the other), it was quite fascinating.

The “Choreography” part of the evening opened with “Trice”, by ENB Class of 2010 graduate George Williamson, now English National Ballet Associate Artist. It deserves to be seen more widely. Premiered only last month at the Dance Conservatory of Eva Jacz 35th Anniversary Gala in Bratislava, it’s an impressive piece reminiscent of some of Balanchine’s black and white works. It’s certainly as richly textured as is Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” to which it is danced. The three dancers (3rd Years, Olivia Lindon, Archie Sullivan, and Marcio Teixeira) dealt excellently with Williamson’s sometimes complex use of space and looked fully at home both in the slightly jazzy-edged rhythmic playfulness of the opening and closing movements, and in the more traditionally classical pas de deux and solo to the delicious, delicate air de dance of the second movement.

There were some impressive offerings from the present students too. Best of all was Diego Barbosa’s thoughtful and timely “Fallen”, in which Jordan Bautista hauled three victims of war, and presumably three friends, across the stage, dancing an outpouring of grief, anguish and anger in between each. It was most moving and powerful, although unfortunately that sense was dissipated considerably by Barbosa’s choosing to have the bodies return to life and gather in Bautista at the close.

I also enjoyed “Conscious Breath”, an impressive classical piece created and danced by four 2nd Years: Drew Jackson, Phoebe Liggins, Maria Sousa and Isabella Swietlicki. Combining the audible sound of breath with Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski’s score worked nicely, and the choreography was well structured, and well-danced. Running it close was “Tormented Flux” choreographed and danced by 1st Year Daniel Myers, a powerful solo in which he did indeed appear anguished and caught in many minds. Myers also showed a good understanding of how lighting can enhance work, especially in the opening.

In the “Repertoire” section, the 3rd Year women gave a good account of the Snowflakes from Derek Deane’s “Nutcracker”, before some of the 1st Year men showed off some leaps and turns in the Pas de Quatre from “Raymonda”. The 2nd Years danced a short section from Renato Paroni’s gorgeous “Mozart Allegro”, with Midorikawa again shining along with her partner Drew Jackson, and Charlotte Levy who performed a most impressive series of fouetté turns. Rather appropriately, the 3rd Years returned to round things off with an upbeat section from Harald Lander’s “Etudes”.

After a Grand Défilé, Guest of Honour, Sir Peter Wright, spoke for everyone when he paid tribute to the teachers and thanked the dancers for their exceptional work. “With schools doing work like this, classical ballet really lives,” he said. Hear, hear to that!