Lanterns Studio Theatre
London

24th February 2024

Stuart Sweeney

Ballet Nights is a series of innovative dance evenings, created in 2021 by Jamiel Devernay-Laurence , previously a Soloist at Scottish Ballet and now, an arts entrepreneur and facilitator. The title, Ballet Nights, is a little misleading, as, together with earlier presentations, we saw an eclectic mix of dance styles. The venue is Lanterns Studio Theatre in Docklands with a huge stage, but with only around 230 seats, there is an intimacy lacking in more conventional venues. With not only a mix of dance styles, Devernay-Laurence brings together major artists, talented newcomers and premieres. He also comperes the show in a lively style, providing introductions to each presentation and background on the  performers.

Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke in the Romeo and Juliet pdd
Photo by Viktor Erik Emanuel

The headliners this time were Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke, Principals at the Royal Ballet. They closed the evening with the balcony duet from Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Gala excerpts, stripped from their original narrative, are often disappointing, but not on this occasion. In the programme notes, Naghdi wrote, “Reece is a formidable partner and dancing with him is always such a joy!  It allows me to be more free and daring in my movement making the performance more exciting to watch.” Damn right! The complex, passionate lifts were executed brilliantly and the chemistry between the two flowed off the stage.

Seeing this masterwork in close proximity meant that the subtlety of the  facial expressions was fully realised. As illustrated when Juliet backs away in modesty, before later throwing herself into the arms of her new love and climaxing with one of the longest kisses in the ballet repertoire. Naghdi and Clarke’s beautiful performance to Prokofiev’s soaring score provided a fitting end to a fine evening of dance.

Yasmine Naghdi and Reece Clarke in ‘Spring Waters’.
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Their first pas de deux was Spring Waters,  created in 1953 for the Bo[shoi School by Asaf Messerer to a score by Rachmaninov. A mere 2 ½ minutes in length, with the dancers in costumes, evoking country life, it celebrates the return of spring in dramatic and energetic movement. Nahgdi’s confidence in Reece’s partnering skills are again to the fore as the high lifts and catches are uncompromising. This intense, choreographic love affair ends with Reece carrying Naghdi off-stage in an emotionally upbeat overhead lift.

Tap dancer Guy Salim
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Guy Salim in baggy jeans, an open red shirt over a white vest and heavy boots slunk onto the stage. Some amplified taps from the boots rang out around the auditorium, followed by a combination, unaccompanied throughout the routine. And slowly the frenzy mounted, building to a barrage of rapid fire stomps with incredible footwork – an amazing display.

Laurel Dalley Smith performing ‘Laurel’ by Sir Robert Cohan
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

In sharp contrast, we saw, Laurel, a solo danced by Laurel Dalley Smith from Seven Portraits, created mainly remotely during Covid by Sir Robert Cohan for the Yorke Dance Project. This was Cohan’s final work, created well into his 90s. It was fitting that the man who arguably did the most to kick-start contemporary dance in the UK should make a work for Dalley Smith, who is also a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Cohan’s old company. Deverney-Lawrence’s told us that Cohan saw Dalley Smith as possessing “wild, almost feral qualities.” To the sounds of birds and water, she explores the stage area, like an animal finding itself in a new territory. Sometimes leaping high, sometimes stretched full length on the floor, she evoked strong impressions of the natural world.

Jordan James Bridge in ‘So The Rhythm Goes’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

And So The Rhythm Goes, a premiere, choreographed and performed by Jordan James Bridge, came just after a classical tutu variation and highlighted the contrasted nature of the evening. Bridge is a member of Company Wayne McGregor, so it came as no surprise that he has terrific contemporary technique. Rapid, supple movement and floor work, followed by momentary pauses brought a dance portraying a confident character making his mark on the world.

Pett | Clausen-Knight in ‘Nerve Wire’
Photo: Deborah Jaffe

James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight perform under the name Pett | Clausen-Knight and were also dancers in Company Wayne McGregor. They have struck out on their own and have featured in each of the Ballet Nights evenings. Nerve Wire is a dark study in tension, with fast, thrilling exchanges between the two dancers.

Chloe Keneally in ‘Paquita’
Photo by Deborah Jaffe

Among several new faces Jamiel Devernay-Laurence introduced in this show, Chloe Keneally, an Artist in English National Ballet, performed variations from Paquita and The Sleeping Beauty. With elegant arms and strong technique, she showed much promise for the future.

Ballet Night’s resident pianist, Viktor Erik Emanuel, opened each half of the show. I particularly enjoyed his performance of Alborada Del Gracioso by Ravel, full of vigour and evoking Spanish flavours in the heart of London’s Docklands. Jamiel Devernay-Laurence deserves much credit for the bold venture of Ballet Nights and long may the series continue.