December showcase
English National Ballet School studio theatre, London
December 3, 2015

David Mead

The English National Ballet School’s December showcase offers students an early chance to show off some of their developing skills in front of an invited audience, which this year included ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo and guest of honour, former Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, ENB and Royal Ballet principal Leanne Benjamin.

The opening showcase of classwork was intelligently choreographed by the teachers. As usual, rather than showing the whole gambit of 1st year work, then 2nd, then 3rd, they opted to show the progression of each skill through the years, for example showing pirouettes by the 1st years, then the 2nd, then the 3rd, before moving on to the next part of class. That allows the progression of each skill through the years to be seen clearly.

In general everything was well done, with plenty of neat footwork in evidence. There were some excellent turns from the 3rd years, the highlights being a set of well-controlled fouettés from Emily Suzuki and a series of very good turns in second by Drew Jackson that finished with some super-fast regular pirouettes. What really came over from everyone, though, was the joy of dancing on the students’ faces as they showed what they could do. The theatre and indeed the whole building had a real buzz about it. If I have to have a grouse, it’s that would have been nice to see a little more épaulement and use of the back, but then it seems to be out of fashion these days.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the contemporary (for which read American modern dance) classwork was not quite up to the same level, although the following character dances were performed with lots of enthusiasm, especially the Siguidilla from Gorsky’s Don Quixote.

The student choreography proved as interesting as ever and it was good to see one or two students sticking almost totally to the classical vocabulary, rather than feeling the need to get all contemporary and include lots of floorwork, although having said that, my favourite did include lots of the latter. The happy What a Nice Holiday, choreographed and danced by 1st year Yuki Nonaka was also the piece that felt most like a single completed dance. You could almost feel the sunshine as he played with freedom in an almost childlike way.

Elsewhere, 3rd year Pablo Luque Romero showed promise with his Circumduction, although it did rather feel like two separate pieces. An opening solo by Romero was followed by a duet with Inés Marroquín, and it was here that the piece really took off. What appeared to be a difficult relationship was quickly established and the dance was filled with expression and emotion, Marroquín in particular showing she already has plenty of dramatic skills.

Nerves, essentially a dance for two couples by fellow 3rd year Lucinda Strachan, was well-structured, and I liked the unusual beginning with everyone facing the back.

Among the repertoire excerpts shown, the 2nd years gave a grand account of the Entrance of the Swans and Waltz from Derek Deane’s Swan Lake. I was also rather taken by the Pas de Quatre from Act II of John Neumeier’s version of the Nutcracker (a version, incidentally, that has nothing to do with Christmas, being more a ballet about ballet, and a girl’s dreams of being a ballerina) danced by Jackson, Luque Romero, Dylan Price and Valerio Palumbo; and the Pas de Trois from La Bayadère by Suzuki, Strachan and Anna Maria Gergely.

The evening concluded with the traditional Grand Défilé.