Lantern Studio Theatre
London

27 October 2023

Maggie Foyer

The Ballet Nights season is a bold and brave venture from Jamiel Devernay-Laurence to bring ballet from the vast opera house stages right up to our seats, close and personal. The Lantern Studio Theatre is what it says on the tin: a vast studio space pregnant with possibilities. On the plus side is the close proximity to the artists, seeing the mechanics of their craft and feeling you are almost sharing the space. Problems with sightlines, unless you’re in the front row, can hopefully be sorted and lighting this unbounded space effectively seemed to be something of an issue at this performance.

Musa Motha in ‘Depth of Healing’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

However, for an artist like Musa Motha, a totally unique talent who doesn’t find an easy fit in regular theatre shows, this is an ideal space. He is an artist whose work is amazing not only for the ingenuity of his choreography, he has only one leg, but for the eloquence of his unusual body which is riveting to watch. Added to this is his indomitable spirit and the warmth of his delivery. In the closing moment of Depth of Healing, he draws his cupped hands together, gathering in the atmosphere of the room, then places both hands on his heart. It beautifully encapsulates the message of his short solo. This artist needs to be seen and enjoyed by all.

Yasser D’Oquendo in ‘Utopia – The Way Is Inside’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Another very personal and heartfelt moment came in Utopia: The Way Inside. A dynamic solo danced by the magnificent Yasser D’Oquendo, in a tribute to his little daughter, whose voice we heard on the soundtrack.  D’Oquendo, who London audiences will know from his performances with Acosta Danza, uses this solo to give voice to his decision to leave the company and perform in the West to secure a better future for his daughter. His technique is fierce and physical using every fibre of his muscles and length of limb. He harnesses the power to move with feline grace in an almost lyrical manner to tell his tough story centred on love.

Constance Devernay-Laurence in ‘Heisei 9’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

The one female solo was a new commission, Heisei 9, danced with great élan by Constance Devernay-Laurence. Choreographed by Jordan James Bridge, to music by Nobuo Uetmatsu and danced in a stylish leotard designed by Stevie Stewart it had an up-to-the-minute vibe. The delivery was smart and gutsy, a strong lady in conversation with a superb pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel playing an impressively grand piano donated by none other than Elton John. Emanuel also introduced each part of the show, first with Chopin’s dramatic Ballade No.4 in F minor and then Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse each spiriting us away from the mundane to a world of art.

Bella Lewitzky’s work is little known in the UK and the Yorke Dance project are to be commended for introducing it. Lewitzky was a pupil of Lester Horton but went on to devise her own technique. The excerpt from Meta 4, while essentially American modern dance, shows little allegiance to either Graham’s dramatic intensity or Cunningham’s cool abstraction. It is physically demanding making powerful use of the space while creating interesting sculptural shapes. Dancers Luke Ahmet, Pierre Tappon, Abigail Attard Montalto and Jenny Hayes did it proud.

Andrew McNicol’s neo-classical duet Of Silence was accompanied by music with a spiritual edge by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. It hinted at portentous matters but remained rather slight in substance. However, it was danced with commitment and sincerity by Winnie Dias and James Stephens.

James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight “IN THE ABSENCE”
Photo by Salvatore Lazzaro, Graphic design by Travis Clausen-Knight

In the Absence, danced by James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight to Greg Haines music was a compelling dialogue. The electricity between the two was tangible and the dynamics skilfully handled to hold attention. It may well have benefitted with a few minutes trimmed from the heavily dramatic end, but the choreography was intriguing throughout. Whether solo or in close contact, the movements were unusual, interesting and spoke volumes.

It was left to Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations (see top image) to close the first half. Witty and outrageously entertaining it was given a stellar performance by Constance Devernay-Laurence and Ryoichi Hirano. Both had performed these roles with their respective companies, Scottish Ballet and the Royal Ballet but the freshness of a new partnership added the champagne sparkle.

Sangeun Lee, Gareth Haw in David Dawson’s ‘Metamorphosis 1’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

David Dawson’s Metamorphosis 1 was a product of Covid 19, created in fragments online when the cosy world of dancers working together in a studio was shattered and we became acutely aware of how fragile our existence was. The pas de deux danced to Philip Glass’s suite of the same name, is a cry from the dancers’ soul, an impassioned plea for ballet, for art and for all we hold dear. Dawson has chosen two of the best to interpret this. Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw now both with English National Ballet, worked for many years with Dawson in Dresden. They understand the emotions behind his choreography and brought magic to the stage. Lee has both the body and the soul to inspire great artists and found moments of very human tenderness within her ironclad technique while Haw gave the support for Dawson’s sweeping lifts and swirls. Watching such beauty in close proximity was an added bonus and made this UK premiere the highlight of a special evening.