30 Jun 2024

Ballet Nights 005 / New Futures bill

Ballet Nights is back and iteration 005 features a diverse mix of 9 dance works and particularly delightful efforts from James Cousins, Grace O’Brien and Jordan James Bridge…

Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in Jordan James Bridge’s Terra Astra. © Viktor Erik EmanuelSangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in Jordan James Bridge’s Terra Astra. © Viktor Erik Emanuel

Ballet Nights
Ballet Nights 005 / New Futures bill
London, Lanterns Studio Theatre
28 June 2024

Ballet Nights is unique, and it’s terrific that somebody is experimenting with fresh ideas to present dance and dancers. But within that, it can come across as uniquely great, really connecting with us out-front, and… uniquely exasperating at times.

The core idea is having a compere who introduces each dance - that’s Jamiel Devernay-Laurence, who also directs the overall enterprise and chooses the bill. Currently, it is small in scale as events go, but clearly has huge ambition as a brand with, for example, nights at the Ministry of Sound and shows going out to Malaysia and Australia. And as they get bigger, the presentation will inevitably evolve for the good, I’m sure.

Two areas of Ballet Nights can exasperate - the performance space and an overly pushy compering sell’. The 350-seat Lanterns Studio Theatre has poor rake, and sight lines are generally poor for dance, other than from the front row. Lighting can also be problematic, with much of the lighting coming from the sides and little from overhead - it feels rudimentary and workmanlike compared with what most dance theatres can deliver. On the flip side, you are close to the dancers, and that can be magical if you have not been so close before. But change is on the way and, pleasingly, Devernay-Laurence announced that a future event (in September) would be at the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea - easier to get to and, at between 500 and nearly 1000 seats, a valuable boost to capacity. But currently, it’s not generally a hall noted for dance, so it will be interesting to see if sight lines are as dramatically improved as they need to be.

Jamiel Devernay-Laurence comes over as somebody who could affably sell snow to Eskimos, and all the compering is irrepressibly upbeat and always keen to mention Ballet Nights as a brand. Overdone at times, it can feel a bit oppressive and cheap. On the other hand, it would have been nice if a little more time were devoted to giving factual context about the actual dance we are about to see and what it is trying to convey. That said, it’s a taste thing, and if Ballet Nights gets to do some gigs in Las Vegas, then the current compering style will probably go down a storm.

Ballet Nights 005 featured nine dances in two segments split by an interval. At the start of each segment pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel plays an affably nice tune (Liszt and Ravel this time), if for me, I’d prefer to crack on with the dance. For posterity, I give the full running order and credits under these review words. About half the dance pieces connected with me; those that didn’t often felt just too short/inconsequential (the Giselle solo, Kennedy Junior Muntangas strikingly beefy response to a drum solo - really want to see more of him), rather confusing (Nicholas Shoesmiths Insomnia with many lunges and much head clutching, if to an interesting score by Ben Chatwin) or rather generic in showing pain/unhappiness (Rentaro Nakaakis After the Dream for Minju Kang). There was also an oddball’Ballet Nights Mystery Performance where two uncredited dancers did a strange cabaret routine with celebrity chef cocktails, collected from some audience members, and elaborately danced with, all without dropping a glass or any contents. It was a weird interlude that seemed out of place and quite possibly designed to help sell the special cocktails in the bar!

Scottish Ballet (SB) revived Five Rückert Songs for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival, and it was good to see a solo from it danced (this time) by the coolly striking Eve Mutso. By Peter Darrell (SB founder), a contemporary of Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko, Rückert dates from 1978 and is very much of its time in look and deeply expressive power. My only problem is a generic one with lieder songs and not liking the singing style or understanding the German words - sung live here. But to see Mutso on stage again is terrific, and I salute that.

If you haven’t seen James Cousins Jealousy, initially commissioned by Scottish Ballet in 2013, you haven’t lived! It’s 5 minutes of very clever contemporary dance duet where Brenda Lee Grech never once touches the floor, supported, folded, rotated and manipulated every which way by Tom Davis Dunn. A strange display of both strong attachment and rejection - it smoulders and intrigues.

One of the strengths of Ballet Nights’ approach in putting on many short works is coming across the delightfully unexpected. Grace O’Brien, a Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance student, created Set Fast for 7 of her fellow students, and it’s a belter of a work. I haven’t a clue what it was about but over 8 minutes it delivered much fresh and unique movement, full of pulsating urban energy, which devoured and shape-shifted around the space. Delivered with much shimmering swagger along with the Cousins, this was the most interesting choreography of the night. On the back of this, O’Brien certainly deserves a significant commission.

The headline stars were to be the Royal Ballet’s Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball, but injury put pay to that. Standing in were English National Ballet’s Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw, who recently opened the ENB Swan Lake run at the Royal Albert Hall to admiring reviews. For this show, they first reprised the White Swan pas de deux from that production and smoothly assured it all was. And it looked more polished than their first Albert Hall performance and a real treat to see them closer too. But they also premiered a new work created on them by Jordan James Bridge, Terra | Astra - a piece about the earth and the stars. It was the best-looking piece of the evening, with Lee and Haw in gold-tinged, shiny black one-piece costumes that made them look like sexy beings from another world - the bold work of Sara Mackenzie. Contemporary-trained Bridge, who danced for Wayne McGregor (and other luminaries), notably delivered something more balletic than you might expect. Feline and smoothly beguiling, it made the most of the dancer’s technical prowess. A gorgeous floating ending leaves us all wanting more, and I suspect it’s a work that will feature on the gala circuit.

Terra | Astra is an excellent Ballet Nights commission, and this, plus the Rambert School and James Cousins works, rams home the positive impact of Jamiel Devernay-Laurence’s fresh and diverse thinking in putting a show together.


Verdi Rigoletto: Paraphrase de Concert
Performed by Viktor Erik Emanuel
Composer Franz Liszt

Act 1 Solo from Mary Skeaping’s Giselle
Performed by Minju Kang
Choreography by Mary Skeaping after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa
Music Ludwig Minkus
Design David Walker
With Thanks To Irmgard Berry & English National Ballet

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”
Solo from Five Rückert Songs
Performed by Eve Mutso
Mezzo Soprano Dana Mays
Piano Viktor Erik Emanuel
Choreographer Peter Darrell CBE
Music Gustav Mahler
Restaged by Kristin Johnson

Performed by Sophie Quay, Felicity Chadwick & Iván Merino Gaspar
Choreographed by Nicholas Shoesmith
Composer Ben Chatwin

WHITE SWAN pas de deux
Performed by Sangeun Lee & Gareth Haw
Choreographer Marius Petipa
Composer Tchaikovsky
With Thanks to English National Ballet


Gaspard De La Nuit, M. 55: I. Ondine
Performed by Viktor Erik Emanuel
Composer Maurice Ravel

Performed by Kennedy Junior Muntanga
Live Music by Guy Salim

Performed by Minju Kang
Choreographed by Rentaro Nakaaki
Music Gabriel Fauré
With Thanks To English National Ballet

James Cousins Company
Danced By Brenda Lee Grech & Tom Davis Dunn
Music by Ben Frost

Performed by Amari Webb-Martin, Evie-Leigh Savage, Lottie Hawkins, Matthew Potulski, Jemima Sparrow, Phoebe Dowglass and Rory Clarke
Choreographed by Grace O’Brien
Composer Zoe Keating
With Thanks to Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance

Performed by Sangeun Lee & Gareth Haw
Piano Viktor Erik Emanuel
Choreographed by Jordan James Bridge
Design by Sara Mackenzie
Composer Hans Zimmer Arr. Viktor Erik Emanuel
Kindly Supported by The Howat Family

Compère Jamiel Devernay-Laurence