One of the little-known perks among the muck and toil of reviewing is that occasionally you get invited to something so spectacular it’s hard to top. In this instance it was this year’s Elmhurst summer gala, the prestigious Birmingham ballet school’s showcase for all the marvellous new dancers waiting in the wings ready to astonish and delight the world.
Last year’s gala celebration was a blockbuster of a night at the Rep, but how much more intimate and charming when held in Elmhurst’s own purpose-built theatre, allowing a close-up look at these delightful young stars of tomorrow.
In a packed and very varied programme featuring an array of starry student performances a few items stood out. The opening piece Explosion Polka by Royal Ballet maestro Frederick Ashton to Johann Strauss solo piano showed Year 13 dancers at a delightful nineteenth century party, while Next Breath choreographed by Stephen Delattre, music by Michael Gordon with Year 14 dancers showed what future dance will be like, with a tempting array of future stars.
Schumann Piano Quintet proved utterly compelling as five Year 12 and 13 gentlemen, Felix, Lovell, Carey, Evans and Taylor proved to be very promising for the future of male dancers in classical works while Suite of Dancers amongst a large and excellent cast featured two future stars in Shao Nozaxki and Jordan Wright with their exquisite Rhapsody Pas de Deux, a lovely classical workout in the purest taste.
But most memorably the flamenco sequences that ended the first half, Compromiso and Solea were revealed as one of the most stunning displays of dance I’ve seen for a while, especially the men, first red, then black.
After the interval with the dancers now warmed up the pace quickened and the tone brightened even further. Winner of the David Bintley Award, Chloe Jones’ Adversus to music by Vivaldi was full of the most beautiful ensemble work, while the talent on display with excerpts from La Bayadere made Petipa’s brinksmanship choreography look deceptively achievable by the Year 13 ladies.
Year 14 performers made the very most of Another Day of Sun that ranged from extreme classicism to burlesque and included some very neat men’s tap while Hannah Lockyer’s Endurance found its inspiration in athletics, particularly running, walking and tai chi.
But the coup of the whole evening has to be Comic Cuts, a new work by Birmingham Royal Ballet supremo David Bintley referencing the hectic days of vaudeville occasionally caught on early American film, especially Penguins, The Ugly Bug Ball and the whole Egyptian sequence with its Krazy Komic Kapers, terrific fun with an antique edge still glowing from happinesses long ago, made all the more poignant by such a young cast, a coup for Elmhurst and a great new work to boot.
An evening of purest pleasure. Encore!