It was a well deserved opportunity to show off the students who have been participating in the English National Ballet School Professional Dancers Trainee Programme, the brainchild of Artistic Director Viviana Durante. The plight of all students nationwide during the pandemic has been largely recognised as disastrous no matter what course of study they have been following. However, it does seem to have been especially harsh for dance students where crucial and intense pre-professional training is necessary in order to make the transition. The relatively short professional life means that prolonged periods hanging on to a bannister or chair, in a space too small to swing a cat in, is not conducive to building the stamina and technique essential in making that final step. Hence Durante’s olive branch offered to those students whose training has been greatly disrupted – a chance to prove that where there is a will, there is a way. On the basis of the performance I saw, they are more than ready to take that leap of faith.
It was a mixed bill with four especially commissioned and strongly diverse works – a great way to emphasise that versatility is a prerequisite in the current world. Juan Eymar created Holberg Suite, a very classical, fluid piece that gorgeously reflected Grieg’s music of the same name. Particularly strongly danced by the men – it presented plenty of technical hurdles that the entire cast surmounted. Javier Gutiérrez Cuervo tackled all his jumps with gusto and his beautifully stretched feet did not go unnoticed. As the central couple, Valeria Garcia was spirited and accomplished and had a very attentive partner in Jordan Micallef. Micallef was lyrical in the extreme with lovely, soft jumps and fabulous lines. A very good performance from everyone, my only gripe being that the ladies need to break in their pointe shoes a little more so that better use of the metatarsals can be achieved.
In Motion We Feel, created by Joseph Toonga, who is currently in the middle of a two year stint as Emerging Choreographer with The Royal Ballet, was a a good contrast. His background is in Hip Hop although this wasn’t particularly in evidence here. The students took to the choreography well but the way the piece evolved was a little ambiguous. If it is going to be very contemporary in style, why put the women on pointe only to have them take their shoes off, half way through? The music was compelling (by Natacha Atlas and Jocelyn Pook, Remix by Orin Norbert) and the choreography expressed a certain urgency to echo the score. Ana Maestri, leading the troupe, was excellent.
After the interval, Isobel Fisher danced a contemporary solo, Lead by Le Wang. Brief as it was, Fisher nailed it. Perhaps the biggest challenge came in the final piece, Mauro de Candia’s Velvet. An established choreographer and director, it was my first introduction to his work. His idea was to offer the dancers something completely different, more Tanz Theater, using famous opera arias. He wanted them to appreciate the different “layers” to the music when the voice is used, as well as helping them to learn about the legacy of the theatre. An all female cast, dressed in flesh unitards with red, feathered ruffles, it was a nod to Commedia dell’arte and who better to understand this than an Italian. De Candia has successfully given them another tool in their boxes – that of comic timing and acting. With a unique vocabulary, this was full of laugh out loud moments and the dancers looked like they loved every minute of it. From Mozart’s The Magic Flute to excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen, it was wonderful to see them vying for attention, competing with one another without shame. And if I had to pick out one dancer amid a great cast, it would be Oihane Aramendia who did not let her mischievous expression drop for one moment.
What a superb experience for the students – to have the chance to work with four very different choreographers and produce results of such high standards.
By Deborah Weiss