Harriet Marden in Futility.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Harriet Marden in Futility.
Photo © Bill Cooper

Wing Yue Leung in Meraki.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Wing Yue Leung in Meraki.
Photo © Bill Cooper

St James’ Theatre, London, UK; June 25, 2014

David Mead

Ballet Central’s annual nationwide tour gives final year students at the Central School of Ballet an important opportunity to hone their performance skills and get used to the practicalities of life as a professional dancer. This year’s company included 31 dancers from eight countries, the programme as usual majoring on classical ballet, while also including contemporary and jazz dance.

Opening the evening, “Continuum” is a classical work for ten dancers by Central School graduate Andrew McNicol, now studying for his Master’s degree in choreography. It’s based on notions of time, although that is just the starting point for what is an abstract, busy ballet. Solos constant emerge from ensemble sections, and there are plenty of full extensions and interesting lifts, but there is sometimes so much going on it looks confused. It also looked terribly squeezed on the tiny St James’ Theatre stage – a thrust stage that also only had one wing either side, adding further to the dancers’ problems.

Lack of space also looked an issue in the pas de deux that is the “Ballad of the Ear of Corn” and the following dance for Swanilda and six friends. You could feel the dancers clearly having to rein in the height of arabesques, extensions and grand jetés. Perhaps that was the root cause of the number of slight, but obvious, timing errors. Saki Katoka brought sunshine to the role and has neat footwork, but both she and the corps looked uncomfortable acting, all tending to rush their gestures and failing to make full use of the music.

Central School Director Sara Matthews had two pieces on the programme, both solos, both related to World War I. Matthews’ programme notes suggest that both were inspired by ballets performed in Europe at the time. If so, the connection is invisible.

“Rendezvous” is danced largely in silence, only occasionally accompanied by Derek Jacobi reading Alan Seeger’s 1917 terribly moving poem, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”. Large parts of the choreography, full of abstract rolls and spirals, are reminiscent of men’s gymnastics floorwork. Like gymnastics, it was totally devoid of feeling, although it’s difficult to emote when everything is so speedy. It needed to slow down a bit. Not for the only time in the evening, matters were not helped by the incredibly noisy stage; John O’Gara’s every leap and every fall to the floor being greeted with a loud thud.

Matthew’s second ballet, “Futility”, could not have been more different. Danced to a combination of Wilfred Owen’s poem of the same title (again read by Jacobi) and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, Alexandra Davies’ dance around a dancer laying prone on the floor suggested great feeling for those lost. But did we really need the projection of a poppy on the stage at the end? It was like flashing up a big sign saying, ‘in case you didn’t get it…’

Luna Othnin-Girard and Jonathan Day in 'Five Lullabies'.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Luna Othnin-Girard and Jonathan Day in ‘Five Lullabies’.
Photo © Bill Cooper

Emma Walker and Jack Roxby-Brown in Carousel Dances.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Emma Walker and Jack Roxby-Brown in Carousel Dances.
Photo © Bill Cooper

Made in 1997 by former Northern Ballet artistic director and school founder Christopher Gable, “Five Lullabies” is a delightful suite of whimsical neo-classical dances reflecting, childhood, adolescence and young love. With the dancers in sailor-type suits, it’s a little nostalgic, and maybe a little too saccharin sweet, but it fitted the cast of six like a glove. The piece is also helped by Philip Feeney’s largely piano score, the composer playing the keyboards live.

Equally impressive, although rather more edgy, is Northern Ballet Ballet Master Daniel de Andrade’s “Meraki”, which is a Greek word meaning doing something with creativity, love and soul. The classically-based choreography is powerful with lots of angular positions. The whole cast looked good as they attacked it with all the force it needed, with Wing Yue Leung looking particularly impressive.

A jazzy interlude came courtesy of Leanne King’s “Toots Goes to Charleston”, which gave the dancers the chance to let their hair down a little. Richard Gellar’s feather adorned flapper costumes, certainly sparkled (he did a grand job all evening, as did Ed Railton with the lighting), and it was danced with a sense of fun, but it was hard to escape the feeling everyone was being a tad too careful at times. A little more fizz was needed for it to be a truly champagne piece.

“Carousel Dances” by New Adventures dancer Christopher Marney proved to be a bright and entertaining end to the evening. As the title suggests, it’s an interpretation of the Agnes de Mille’s ballet sequence from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Marney’s choreography is bright and theatrical. There’s some acrobatic dance and involving the neat use of circus poles as props for the men, but best of all is the central pas de deux. Emma Walker was delightful as a slightly naïve Louise, with Duncan Anderson, capable and strong as the Barker Boy, in the central pas de deux. There was great chemistry between them. They made you believe – and you can’t ask for more than that.

All round, an enjoyable evening of pleasant dances from a clearly talented group of dancers.