12 May 2024

Ballet Central - Mixed Bill

Ballet Central’s 2024 tour just kicked off at Sadler’s Wells and neatly combines the traditional to the cutting edge new…

Emily Clarke in Daniel Davidson’s “I think we’re on different planets”. © Photography by ASHEmily Clarke in Daniel Davidson’s “I think we’re on different planets”. © Photography by ASH

Ballet Central
Stay On It, Night Flight v2.0, I think we’re on different planets, Coppelia Act III
London, Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio
10 May 2024
Touring through to 4 July 2024

Ballet Central is the touring company of London’s Central School of Ballet. It’s where final-year students learn the practical realities of touring and performing for a paying public. This year Central perform in 10 theatres across the south of England, kicking off last Friday night in Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio and unveiling two premieres, along with another freshly minted work and Act III of Coppelia. It’s a good mix of tradition and the bang-up-to-date and in just 90 unstuffy minutes neatly shows the vast and exciting span of what ballet can be these days.

The evening opened far from ballet tradition in Jules Cunninghams barefoot and sparse Stay On It. It brought a slice of 20th-century contemporary Americana to Islington, with the spirit of Merce Cunningham (no relation) clearly hanging in the air. I just loved the Jackson Pollock drip-influenced leotards (Chloe Ivey-Ray based on dancers ideas) and the Julius Eastman post-minimalist score, one piece of which gives the work its name and careers from stark piano, through choral to a section of blaring, scorching brass. The choreography has no discernibly clear arc but is the response of Cunningham and the dancers to the wide-ranging music. This makes for an unexpected roller coaster of disintegrated contemporary action where stark individual clarity of movement is all. It’s fresh and interesting if it felt a little incomplete and could usefully be extended.

Every ballet school needs a final-year commission that clearly and happily shows off all the students, and Carolyn Boltons Night Flight v2.0 was that piece. In this, the dancers became stars in the cosmos, echoed in their classy, sparking blue costuming and the swirling staging. Philip Feeney, Central’s long-standing Music Director, produced an absolutely cracking and high-power jazzy score that added extra impetus, and terrific to see a section that really tested the students’ jumps. Night Flight neatly draws attention to the dancers rather than itself.

The last work before the interval, was the one that impressed me most: Daniel Davidsons I think we’re on different planets. It opened in silence and subdued lighting, with just one dancer at the back of the stage, looking rather like an Antony Gormley iron man. Then, very slowly, other dancers stroll on stage to form a 17-strong line, and the cast is assembled. One slowly starts to walk off, and you think, Good grief, is this a contemporary dance spoof?” But then the piece starts proper, and mysteriously loose duets erupt at the front of the stage while the frieze of dancers at the back provide visual texture and wait their turn. It’s a work about the quest for love and togetherness, and while there are many unhappy looks, the movement is beautiful, stretched and smoothly beguiling. It gains further interest and more group kinetics in the second part to Fabiana Palladino’s Mystery, with its poppy electronic base and haunting vocals. Davidson, ex-Scottish Ballet and Rambert, can really deliver dance with theatrical and exhilarating emotional punch, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. And Andrew Ellis’ moody lighting also deserves special praise.

The interval sweeps away all the new as we zoom back 150 years to Act III of Coppelia with its bouncy and joyous Delibes score. Well set by Adela Ramirez, it offers all the marriage celebrations of Swanilda and Franz, together with a slew of named character roles and testing Petipa/classical steps for the whole company. Costumed appropriately, it was a shame the painted village square backcloth, seen in production pictures, was not used at The Wells. But nothing was going to stop Central from delivering on the glee of Coppelia, and they tackled it with gusto and ambition. Misa Noguchi was an impressive Swanilda, full of infectious confidence and poise. Delivering classical panache is harder for young men, I think - partnering and heroic jumps come with age and strength - but Ross Black went for it and that I commend. I also particularly liked Lucy Cozens’ stately and beautifully rendered Dawn and Shiori Akimoto’s Prayer. All up, Ballet Central put on a well-balanced show, and I’m glad I was able to see it.

Touring through to 4 July 2024. Tour details