The British Ballet Charity Gala, hosted by Darcey Bussell and Ore Oduba (TV presenter and former winner of Strictly Come Dancing), was an evening dedicated to a worthy cause – the plight of professional dance companies which have been hit hard during the pandemic. A dancer’s life is short and to have a couple of years hardly setting foot on stage is a huge blow indeed. Bussell’s idea was to bring 8 of the main UK dance companies together for one evening of dance in the form of a charity gala. The proceeds are to be shared among the participating companies with 20% going to a community dance group of each company’s choice. The added benefits were that Paul Murphy conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia live (bliss) and that for those people unable to attend the performance in person on June 3rd, they will able to watch the streaming until July 18th 2021.
In line with all the government restrictions, bubbles and numbers of people allowed in one spot, this prompted a selection of pieces that were not the usual gala fodder and anyone expecting or hoping for lots of tutus and typical grand pas de deux may well have been disappointed. It was also an evening that included dancers representing their companies rather than large groups from each company. Thus, the sole, truly classical pas de deux came from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Momoko Hirata and César Morales in David Bintley’s Cinderella. And if that was all that was on offer, it ticked all the boxes. Both are blessed with pristine techniques and there was plenty of sparkle to dazzle us.
Interestingly, two of the pieces that were most impressive and entertaining were from contemporary companies. Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures gave us his 1988 Spitfire, a tongue in cheek pastiche using mostly music by Minkus (from Don Quixote and La Bayadère) with a bit of Glazunov thrown in. As the six men parade around, posturing in their underwear like a 1950s advert for Damart Thermals, one is reminded of the phenomenal acting and comic abilities of the dancers, which go hand in hand with brilliant dancing.
The second piece that really made an impact was Rambert2 in an excerpt from Andrea Miller’s Sama. The music is ‘John the Revelator’ by Nicolás Jaar and having previously seen the work in full, this was just enough to whet the appetite for more. In fact, it was mesmerising, both in terms of the dancing and the choreography. It looks like a tribal ritual, as if one has stumbled upon a cult unexpectedly. Scintillating dancing matched with an enigmatic atmosphere.
Scottish Ballet opened the proceedings with an excerpt from Sophie Laplane’s Dextera. As artist in residence she must be very familiar with the dancers and thus has highlighted their strengths. It was a difficult programme opener, simply because it was quirky and slightly off the wall. Certainly in the streaming (which is all I have seen), the women’s leotards were not particularly flattering. That aside, the dancing was extremely good and once one had accepted that Mozart’s Gran Partita and Eine kleine Nachtmusik were there partly to put you off the scent and then to make you appreciate the music’s versatility, I enjoyed the fact that it turned out to be a very original creation. Notable in this were Aarón Venegas and Javier Andreu.
Ballet Black delivered Will Tuckett’s Then or Now with the utmost sensitivity. Set to music by Daniel Pioro and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, the score was somewhat overshadowed by the poetry of Adrienne Rich. It is very much a ballet of the moment, serious in content and serenely led by the beautiful Cira Robinson.
Northern Ballet gave us Jonathan Watkins’ Act I duet from 1984 which I have previously reviewed from the recent London season. With Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor in the roles of Julia and Winston, this is a pas de deux infused with urgency to which Prudames and Taylor bring a genuinely ardent passion. Northern Ballet also brought Kenneth Tindall’s Bitter Earth. I could listen to Max Richter’s music and Dinah Washington singing On the Nature of Daylight/This Bitter Earth, over and over again. To have the added pleasure of watching Minju Kang, Kevin Poeung and Lorenzo Trossello depict the symmetry and ebb and flow of Tindall’s fluid choreography, was a moving experience.
English National Ballet performed some of Yuri Possokhov’s Senseless Kindness, originally created for the company’s digital season in lockdown. Whilst this also might seem like a slightly muted choice for a gala programme, it’s a piece that grows on you. Seeing it on film again, as well as live during the London season, emphasised the nuances and challenges of the choreography and what it essentially requires is solid and polished techniques. Emma Hawes, Francesco Gabriele Frola, Alison McWhinney and Isaac Hernández were superb, bringing a certain gravitas to their individual interpretations.
The closing piece was Valentino Zucchetti’s Scherzo which he created for some of the younger members of the Royal Ballet. It’s a joy from start to finish. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony, 2nd Movement carry us along on the crest of a wave with the youth of the Royal Ballet giving us every reason to be optimistic for the future of the art form.
In a filmed Finale, choreographed by Simone Damberg Würtz and Daniel Davidson, to the Overture from The Marriage of Figaro, this was a suitably high note and good fun to finish on.
It was expertly filmed by Balletboyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, and with the Royal Albert Hall celebrating its 150th anniversary, it is congratulations to all concerned, but especially to Dame Darcey, for bringing the art form, the fallout from the pandemic, as well as the dedication and determination of everyone in the industry, to a wider public.
By Deborah Weiss