thu 05/12/2019

Royal Ballet School Matinée, Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

Royal Ballet School Matinée, Royal Opera House

Royal Ballet School Matinée, Royal Opera House

Talent will out at elite academy's annual graduation showcase

Students of the Royal Ballet School in Liam Scarlett's new 'Classical Symphony', created for the school and dedicated to the memory of its late director, Gailene Stock (1946-2014)© Johann Persson

This is the heart-wrenching time of year when dance school students give their graduation performances and professional dancers bow out at the end of their careers. How poignant to watch Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Nicolas Le Riche, alone on the vast Palais Garnier stage, bidding farewell to his fans at 42, and then to witness Royal Ballet School youngsters making their debuts en masse at the Royal Opera House.

For many RBS students, the annual matinée may be their only experience of performing on the Covent Garden stage. Of this year’s 26 graduates, just three have been accepted into the Royal Ballet company, along with two apprentices. The rest have gone to other companies, from which some may yet return. The number of places available is achingly small, even for the pick of the talented bunch who have survived the gruelling selection process into the RBS Upper School (ages 16-18).

They will all remember their graduation performance, as will proud families and teachers. Yet each year’s group photographs of all the students assembled on stage in serried ranks, feet neatly crossed in fifth position, look pretty well identical. In the concluding Grand Défilé, they come on stage in colour-coded outfits for each year, starting with the 11-year-olds in socks and soft shoes, then tights and pointe shoes for the girls, and finally tutu skirts for the young women and bodytights for the men. Their physiques are similar, their skin colours not very varied.

Chisato Katsura and Reece Clark in Act III of RaymondaTheir talent, however, will mark them out. They all had a chance to dance in the Linbury Studio Theatre downstairs in the Opera House during the week; a chosen few appeared as soloists on the big stage for the Saturday matinee, with the rest as corps de ballet, this year in works mostly choreographed for the occasion. The opening showpiece, however, was Act III of Raymonda, devised for the Royal Ballet by Rudolf Nureyev in 1969 from the 19th century ballet by Marius Petipa.

In Barry Kay’s grandiloquent white and gold designs, the parade of dancers in Hungarian court dress, strutting to Glazunov’s ballet music, made a splendid introduction to the classical variations to come. The solos are demanding because of frequent repetitions of step combinations: any fumble along the way becomes all too apparent. Well-prepared, the dancers overcame the tricky hurdles – I particularly liked Madeleine Dowdney’s expressive use of her head in the first variation. The leading role of Raymonda was taken by Chisato Katsura (pictured above right), already a polished dancer in her second year, with one more to go before she graduates. (You can see her as a promising junior in the RBS DVD of Matthew Hart’s Peter and the Wolf, 2011, in which she was the lithe little cat.)

Katsura took imperious command of the stage and the conductor, Paul Murphy. For Raymonda’s show-off variation, the conductor has to be aware of the tempi the dancer will require as she contrasts poised balances – never reliably predictable – with suddenly speedy footwork. Seemingly nerveless, Katsura took calculated risks that paid off. So did her partner, Reece Clarke, almost knocking himself out in high-flying leaps. Tall and long-legged, he was taken into the Royal Ballet last October, before another company could grab him. A similarly long-legged Dane, Lukas Bjørneboe Braendsrød, leading the czardas, will be a prize for any director when he graduates next year.

Supple bodies are overused in 'Concordance' by Kristen McNally, Alexander Whitley and Martin Joyce, created for the Royal Ballet SchoolA Glazunov polonaise was used for Jubilation, choreographed by Antonio Castilla and Diane van Schoor for senior Lower School students as a preparation for Raymonda and other Petipa ballets. Younger pupils appeared in Tania Fairbairn’s Journeys, a set of stylised national dances of the kind used in 19th century ballets as a relief from virtuoso classical set-pieces. Years 7 to 11 acquitted themselves confidently on the big stage.

Cleverest of all in its use of numerous dancers from the Upper School was Liam Scarlett’s new Classical Symphony (main picture), to Prokofiev’s First Symphony in D major. Scarlett dedicated it to the School’s former director, Gailene Stock, who died this year, and who had encouraged him as a student choreographer. Now internationally renowned, he referred wittily in this work to ballets by Ashton, Balanchine and MacMillan in the Royal Ballet repertoire, while creating his own elegant neo-classical composition.

Australian Calvin Richardson performs his own Dying Swan soloThree alumni from the School, Kristen McNally, Alexander Whitley and Martin Joyce, crafted a joint three-part contemporary dance piece, Concordance (pictured above left), to funky music mixed by Marcas Lancaster. McNally’s contribution was the most interesting: the others over-used supple bodies, as did David Dawson’s acrobatic duet, A Sweet Spell of Oblivion. Mercifully, before that we’d been largely spared the generic modern ballet clichés that the RBS annual production has indulged in the past.

Startlingly fresh was an unscheduled addition to the matinee, a Dying Swan solo by Calvin Richardson (pictured right) to Saint-Saëns’s familiar music. Richardson, an Australian who started ballet comparatively late, performed his brave creation with boneless fluidity, sensual and sad. He has, of course, been accepted into the Royal Ballet company next season. Talent will out.


This article implies that The Royal Ballet is the only option for TALENTED dancers which is an insult to this extraordinary group of grads who have all found employment with great companies around the world.Ballet is a global business and that is what the school prepares them for.There is life outside London! Parent of a graduate

Let's be honest: it's what most of the dancers in the RBS have toiled for since they started at White Lodge and what they want most: to be accepted into the Royal Ballet Company. Granted, the company isn't what it was and relies far too heavily on imported talent but it is still one of the top 5 companies in the dance world. I was lucky enough to be accepted and loved my time with the company - it sounds as though your daughter or son wasn't so fortunate but that's no reason for sour grapes.

It appears that the current graduating year at RBS are extremely talented, above average. Congratulations to them all. There is life outside London- cultural and otherwise!

Above average ? Yes concerning the boys, no concerning the girls (Hannah Bettes excepted).

Jann, I enjoyed, and agree with much of, your review. However, note that Lukas Bjørneboe Braendsrød is Norwegian, not Danish.

The performance was great and quite moving. Scarlett's ballet is a little masterpiece. Did not like Concordance very weak choreoraphy by McNally and co, young dancers deserve better. Let see which choreographers Powney will bring next Season. Congratulations to all students on stage.

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