"Of Silence" © Amber Hunt
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Well-balanced evening

McNicol Ballet Collective, Bloomsbury Theatre

It was a privilege to be at the debut performance of Andrew McNicol’s company, the McNicol Ballet Collective, a team of 7 dancers, at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. It takes a certain kind of determination, drive and, of course, talent to graft away at launching a new company whilst negotiating a worldwide pandemic. If the process was a little stop/start and a bit like manoeuvring a mobile home round an obstacle course, the results are pretty miraculous. I have long been watching McNicol’s choreography develop and there is no doubt that his trajectory is moving swiftly in the right direction. Already in demand across the pond (Joffrey Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, New York Choreographic Institute) as well as having created works for The Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Flanders, Northern Ballet, New English Ballet Theatre to name a few, McNicol is the real deal – and he lets the music lead the way.

The programme consists of four new ballets and the key to the evening’s overall success lies in the word ‘ballet’. In McNicol, the company has a choreographer who fully understands classical ballet and is able to translate it into choreography that, whilst very much of the moment, uses a vocabulary that could only be executed by highly trained ballet dancers. His exceptional, innate musicality makes the expression of the dance language even more poignant. Most important is that he makes his dancers look graceful. As with all great works, it is necessary to have excellent collaborators. Andrew Ellis’s lighting design is superlative throughout the programme; costume maker Bella Thomas has done an excellent job on the first three pieces and Elin Steele’s designs for the final ballet are most appealing.

Photos: “In Ecstasy” © Amber Hunt

First up was In Ecstasy with music composed by Nicholas Thayer and Setareh Narfisi, with a cast of 5 dancers. A gentle start to the evening, it builds to a suitable climax – the shapes, the innovative lifts in the pas de deux, the invisible preparations, make this a slick opener. It wouldn’t however, work without the formidable talents of the dancers, Kristen McGarrity, Winnie Dias, Shevelle Dynott and twins Joshua and Laurie McSherry-Gray. After a brief ‘Behind the Scenes’ film (by Sam Asaert Dance Cinema) to allow the dancers to change, Of Silence followed. With a truly beautiful score by Peteris Vasks, this is a profoundly moving piece. Marina Fraser joins the same 5 dancers in this impeccably structured work. It is transporting, with moments of stillness as important as the flow of movement. Outstanding in a first rate cast is Dias – baring her soul in a ravishingly lyrical way.

“Of Silence” © Amber Hunt
“Firebird Reimagined”  ©  Amber Hunt

Nokomis Pereira joins Dias, Fraser, Dynott and Joshua McSherry-Gray for this uplifting, brief ballet. The honours must surely go to Dynott for his excellent display of slinky moves. It leads me to think that his talents have been woefully under-employed during his years at English National Ballet. In the final Ballet, Firebird Reimagined, an homage to Igor Stravinsky to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death, McNicol has successfully brought it into the 21st century. McGarrity takes on the titular role with tremendous authority. Just prior to this final piece, during the second ‘Behind the Scenes’ film it fell to Dynott to mention that the music was the Firebird Suite and not the entire work. “It’s all the best bits!”, he says rather winningly. Too right! Firebird Reimagined rounds off a thoroughly enjoyable, well-balanced evening and what a joy it is to see really good ballet dancers in the context of such excellent classical choreography.

 Deborah Weiss