"Grand Défilé" Photos by ASH

Royal Ballet School Summer Performance 2022

Photos by ASH 

There is always a great deal of excitement surrounding the Royal Ballet School Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House and in truth, it is a really big deal. Although they have some warm up shows to test their stamina and confidence, the ROH hosts just one performance and the expectations ride high. They are required to deliver near professional standards and even the youngest White Lodgers must be step perfect. They did not disappoint. Far from it, they excelled and left many of us open-mouthed with admiration. Even more remarkable is that a large proportion of this particular group of students have spent the last three years negotiating their way through a pandemic, with disruptions, training at home, bubbles and illness.  Well, it didn’t show!

Andrea Riolo and Jules Chastre in Act 3 of “Raymonda”
Act 3 of “Raymonda”

The programme was well-balanced with challenging classical and contemporary pieces as well as new works and all age groups catered for. Raymonda Act III, so often the grand closing number on a mixed bill, opened the proceedings with such immense talent on show, it fairly took one’s breath away. Comprising all three Upper School year groups this was an ideal vehicle, offering numerous solo opportunities as well as large ensemble work. After a stylish Hungarian dance led by Andrea Riolo and Jules Chastre, there followed the grand pas which could easily have been compared to an established classical company. Soloists Isabella Boyd, Frieda Kaden, Chaeyeon Kang and Scarlett Harvey each displayed the qualities and technical assurance to convince the audience that they were in complete control. Liya Fan, Isabella Shaker and Jessica Templeton were crisply together in the pas de trois and Aidan Buss, Jack Easton, Luc Foskett and Mason King were terrific in the pas de quatre not only mastering the numerous tours en l’air but revealing warm personalities too. In the lead roles of Raymonda and Jean de Brienne, Madison Penney and Takumi Miyake undoubtedly have extremely bright futures ahead of them. She has great maturity already which she brought to her variation. Combined with superb lines, exquisite footwork and a beautiful face, her performance was a delight. Miyake is striking when airborne, making it look effortless, he turns smoothly and beats cleanly. He also has charm and with solid partnering skills, it was good to see him actually present Penney rather than just do the essentials. The Royal Ballet has missed out on both these huge talents as Penney will join Birmingham Royal Ballet (good for them) and Miyake joins American Ballet Theatre Studio Company where I’m sure he will do very well.

“Moments” by Joseph Toonga
“Jubilation” by Mikaela Polley

After the first interval Joseph Toonga’s Moments and Wayne McGregor’s PreSentient bookended Jubilation by Mikaela Polley. Moments gave the 2nd Years a chance to work on a creation with a choreographer, an invaluable experience. They danced it very well too although it struck me as being typical of a lot of the current contemporary repertoire in that it was dark, with a great deal of running around. PreSentient was possibly more challenging on the bodies of the Pre-professional Years, but having taken the trouble to look it up, I note that it was created for Rambert in 2002. While it bears all the hallmarks of McGregor’s extreme vocabulary and it was superbly danced with the prerequisite ‘attack’, I felt that the distinctive voice that McGregor undoubtedly has, has not changed or expanded much in those intervening decades. Neither of the two pieces related a tangible message. In between, Polley, who seems to get it so right in terms of age and ability, gave us a piece that truly reflected the joy in the title to JS Bach’s Violin Concerto no.1 in A minor. Very musical in structure, Jubilation was simply a charming display of classical dance by Years 7 to 11.

“PreSentient” by Wayne McGregor
Martin Diaz in “PreSentient” by Wayne McGregor

The third part opened with Ashton’s Swan Lake pas de douze. This was a lovely rendition from the 1st Years with some excellent footwork and ballon from the men and women and some very strong stage presences. One of the big highlights of the afternoon was John Neumeier’s Yondering. This is a piece which he insists should only ever be danced by students and one can see why. There is such an air of innocence and youthful energy about it.  Set to music by Stephen C. Foster with songs sung by Thomas Hampson, it’s a series of dances with unlikely titles such as Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair and Ah! May the Red Rose Live Always. With a folksy theme and wonderfully crafted choreography, infused with gentle humour, it was pleasurable from beginning to end. Especially enjoyable were Tilly Wightman and George Edwards in Molly! Do You Love Me?, a playful duet which they both made their own. Frieda Kaden, Jack Easton and Ishan Mahabir-Stokes were wistful and moving in Beautiful Dreamer and the men were jovial and boisterous in That’s What’s the Matter.

Tilly Wightman and George Edwards in “Yondering” by John Neumeier
Caspar Lench and Alexandra Manuel in “Eccentric Pulses” by Guillem Cabrera Espinach
Alexandra Manuel in “Eccentric Pulses” by Guillem Cabrera

The penultimate piece was by 2nd Year student Guillem Cabrera Espinach. Eccentric Pulses, a duet danced with aplomb by classmates Caspar Lench and Alexandra Manuel, shows promise on all fronts.

Since 2001, the annual performance has concluded with the Grand Défilé, introduced by Gailene Stock when she was directing the school. To Czerny’s Études no. 13 and 14, it involves the entire school. It’s a goose-bump inducing moment and never fails to bring the house down. I think it’s fair to say, this is what the RBS would call a ‘vintage year’.

Deborah Weiss