New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK; July 4, 2014

David Mead

Isabelle Brouwers and Zhang Jinhao in a studio shot from 'Paquita Grad Pas Classique'.  Photo © Tim Cross

Isabelle Brouwers and Zhang Jinhao in a studio shot from ‘Paquita Grad Pas Classique’.
Photo © Tim Cross

This year, which marks the English National Ballet School’s 25th anniversary, graduating students are off to join all five of the UK’s major ballet companies. That speaks volumes. So did the School’s summer performance, which as usual combined newly commissioned work with established classics in what turned out to be a most enjoyable evening.

Of the many highlights, Jean-Yves Esquerre’s staging of the “Paquita Grand Pas Classique” for the final year students stands tall. When danced as only the Grand Pas, it’s one of those ballets that really is all about technique and little else. Leading the cast were the outstanding Isabelle Brouwers and her cavalier, Zhang Jinhao, both of who have gained contracts with English National Ballet. Brouwers, who previously impressed greatly in winning a silver medal at the 2013 Genée Ballet Competition in Glasgow showed great line, placement and épaulement, and gave us some great pirouettes, but better still actually looked like she was enjoying every minute of it too. As, in fact, did pretty much everyone else, all looking elegant in their sparkling costumes, borrowed from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Stepping down a couple of years, Renato Paroni’s “Mozart Allegro”, danced to the composer’s Concerto No.22, challenged the technique and musicality of the first years. They too stepped up to the plate wonderfully, especially the two leads, 16-year old Shiori Midorikawa and her partner, 17-year old Drew Jackson. Both were remarkably assured for ones so young. Jackson’s multiple pirouettes were a solid as you could wish for, with not a wobble in sight. Choreographically, the ballet – a feast of grey and pink – is packed with nice patterns, Paroni never letting the interest waiver.

Sir Peter Wright’s Peasant pas de six from his production of “Giselle” is a classic – and so much more interesting choreographically than the pas de deux seen in most productions. Ashley Scott and Timothée Mochamps led the three couples through their emboîtés, cabrioles and entrelacés. It was generally well-danced, although some of the men’s batterie looked a tad rough.

A scuptural moment from James Streeter’s 'A Moment in Time'.  Photo © Tim Cross

A scuptural moment from James Streeter’s ‘A Moment in Time’.
Photo © Tim Cross

Classicism of a very different style came from the second years in the Balabile from Act I of Bournonville’s “Napoli”. Led by Olivia Lindon and Jordan Bautista, who danced the pas de deux, they showed plenty of joie de vivre as they made a fair first of what is tricky choreography – packed with jumps and quick footwork – in a tricky to get to grips with style.

Most impressive of the contemporary pieces was James Streeter’s “A Moment in Time” made on the third year boys. Inspired by the idea of friendship and that we are all affected and guided by people in our lives, the busy work is a profusion of energy. It does, though, step back from the often rather macho aggression that tends to characterise such pieces. It was very strongly danced with lots of interesting lifts and supports, and a number of great sculptural groupings. The designs are as starkly simple as they come – nothing but tight fitting black shorts and a totally black background – but they are so effective – the light glinting off the dancers’ bodies and catching limbs and torsos in often beautiful ways.

Also for the third years, Kerry Nichols’ “Metanoia” draws on ideas of change, and that it is those most responsive to it that are most likely to survive – not that you would have got that without the programme note! Another busy piece, full of comings and goings, full of small groups forming and dispensing, strange shapes and big extensions, it’s redolent of Wayne McGregor’s work. That sense is added to by the pounding, pulsing score by Ben Frost (a McGregor favourite), Tomas Hilmarsson and Valgeir Sigurosson.

Emmeline Jansen in her own choreography, 'Count Down', which gained first place in the School choreographic competition.  Photo © Tim Cross

Emmeline Jansen in her own choreography, ‘Count Down’, which gained first place in the School choreographic competition.
Photo © Tim Cross

Completing the programme were three short pieces from this year’s school choreography competition. There was plenty of talent here too. All three were impressive and fully deserved their spot in the evening.It wasn’t difficult to see why Emmeline Jansen’s “Count Down” took first prize. Also danced by Jansen, it’s another piece with more than a touch of Wayne McGregor about it. Not only did the solo included quite a lot of detailed gesture with her right hand that suggested drawing in the space, but there were lots of great extensions that seemed to stretch into the space way beyond her toes and, best of all, some wonderful use of her flexible back.

Also danced was “Undefined” by a quartet of second year second prize winners (Syanne Day, Conal Francis-Martin, Kaylee Marko, Archie Sullivan), performed to music by what it seems is every choreographer’s favourite composer these days: Max Richter. It included an interesting male duet.

Even more Wayne McGregor like than Jansen’s piece, was third year Luke Francis’ solo “Negative Space”, which took third prize. John Rhys-Halliwell (another who shone at last year’s Genée and who is bound for the Estonian National Ballet) danced with incredible clarity, the choreography again including some big extensions of the sort less often seen for men. I particularly liked the way the generally fast choreography included sudden slowings or even monetary pauses.

Besides those detailed, most of the other graduating dancers have places with companies confirmed, including with The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet, Ballet Béjart Lausanne, Leipzig Ballet, and Romanian National Ballet to name but a few – an impressive list indeed.