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I attended the first performance of the Ballet Central 2024 Tour last night, at the Lillian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells.  I thought I'd post about it, although I'm afraid this won't be a very informative review - hopefully it might inspire others a bit more informed to weigh in though, or at least raise awareness of the tour.  Last night was sold out (or just about, I think one ticket came available at the last moment) but from a random sample of a couple of the other upcoming tour dates there seems to be plenty of availability elsewhere. 

 

Firstly, for those not aware, Ballet Central is a touring group that forms each year, made up of pupils in their final year at Central School of Ballet.  The idea is obviously to give some insight and experience into everything goes into putting on a production, with the students generally being involved in aspects of the behind the scenes work as well as the actual performing.  Full tour dates and links to book for each venue can be found on their website.

 

The performance runs for approximately 90 minutes, with a 20 minute interval.  The first half consists of three contemporary works:  "Stay On It" by Jules Cunningham, "Night Flight V2.0" by Carolyn Bolton, and "I Think We're On Different Planets" by Daniel Davidson.  The second half is the third act of Coppélia, restaged by Adela Ramirez. 

 

I'm going to say right here and now that I am not a fan of contemporary dance and that is going to colour how I reacted to these pieces, so do bear that in mind while you're reading.  If you enjoy contemporary you are going to have a completely different outlook on these. 

 

Stay On It:

This piece for ten dancers was choreographed for this year's company, and is set to music by Julius Eastman.  The costumes consisted of unitard-style pieces with scribbles over - this was apparently part of the choreographic process, with the students having "created patterns in response to the musical score" using oil pastels on paper, and these designs were then used to create custom fabric for the costumes.  I just flat out didn't enjoy this piece or the music accompanying it which felt harsh and unpleasant to listen to.  It was all very well done, just... not for me. 

 

Night Flight V2.0

Of the three contemporary pieces, this was the most 'balletic', with the female dancers in pointe shoes.  There were fourteen dancers in total, including some boys.  The music was part recorded, part live - a sort of backing track was played from a recording with the main melody being provided by a keyboard to the side of the stage.  I believe this was composed and played by Philip Feeney, music director at Central.  If you are interested in learning more about this piece and getting a feel for it, Dance Europe posted a video to YouTube which has rehearsal footage and interviews about the creative process.  Unlike the previous (and, spoiler alert, following) piece I actually enjoyed watching this and could stand to watch it again.  I also liked the music, and the costumes were fairly effective too.  

 

I Think We're On Different Planets:

This piece is apparently about "love, an inevitable loss of that love, and the attempts we make to move on from experiences or burdens from our past".  It started in silence with one dancer on stage making tortured gestures and unfortunately my first thought was "ah, this is when your ex leaves and takes the stereo with them".  I never recovered from that thought and when the partnering started a quote from The Cranes Dance floated into my head and also didn't help: "Isn't this piece supposed to be about the end of love?" I asked.  "It looks more like the end of that girl's hips."  There seemed to be a repeated motif of dancers bending over and clutching at their stomach as if they were about to be sick, which was just... not great?  When the music (by Elliott Park) did finally start I wished it hadn't as it was again a quite unpleasant experience, although it then did segue into another piece by Fabiana Palladino which was less grating but did make it feel like we were now watching a music video.  Again, I'm sure it was all very well done, good technique and so on, but it just did nothing for me at all. 

 

Coppélia:

This was enjoyable from start to finish I'm glad to say.  Restaged by Adela Ramirez, I'm afraid I'm not knowledgeable enough to say how it might or might not vary from other productions.  (I've seen it once live in a performance by Vienna Festival Ballet, and have watched the Bolshoi Ballet version available on Sky a few times - I don't know the steps off by heart or anything!)  There were a few minor live performance hitches, with a couple of the plastic flowers falling off a garland when the first dancers entered - when there was a clear moment one of the other dancers gracefully picked it up and mimed smelling it and showing it off to her friends before discreetly dropping it into a prop box.  Swanhilda's dress was not hooked up properly at the back during her solo but thankfully someone managed to fix it while they were all running around hiding from the angry Dr Coppelius so she was once again safe from potential wardrobe malfunctions by the time the pas de deux started.  One dancer accidentally knocked an (empty!) bottle over while going down onto one knee.   The dancing standard seemed generally very good, if not to full professional level - I'm not really good at judging these things but did notice a few rough edges.  Due to the small size of the studio we were very close to the dancing (especially as I'd ended up in the front row) so some of these might not even have been noticeable in a more normal sized theatre.  Misa Noguchi as Swanhilda and Ross Black as Franz both seemed to have strong technique and plenty of energy and... verve?  It felt joyful.  Lucy Cozens as Dawn seemed like quite a confident dancer.  I really enjoyed Shiori Akimoto as Prayer as well... she seemed quite graceful and thoughtful.  Work and Hours both seemed well co-ordinated and the Bridesmaids and Partners coped well with dancing both as couples and integrating as part of a group.  The final group dance was the sort where you kind of want to get up and join in, it was so energetic.  

 

I know I've probably come across sounding negative about that first half, but given how cheap the tickets are you should probably try to see this even if you aren't a massive fan of contemporary work.   There is plenty of energy and skilled dancing, and between Night Flight V2.0 and Coppélia I did feel I got my money's worth and hadn't wasted an evening.  I would be interested in hearing other people's impressions if people do make it to any of the other dates, especially those who can speak in a more informed way about the whole thing!  As well as the dates listed on the booking page, there will be performaces on 17th and 18th July in the Britten Theatre which doesn't seem to be on sale yet - I gather this weekend will also have the summer showcase and graduating ceremony. 

 

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I saw Ballet Central once years ago and enjoyed it very much. I had a friend who was trained at the school although unfortunately I couldn't go during the year she graduated. Thank you for the entertaining report, @SugarPlumpFairy. I liked what the dancer did with the fallen flower! I'll see if I can catch them in July. 

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