Ballet Nights 005 / New Futures

Lanterns Studio Theatre, Canary Wharf

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Brenda Lee Grech and Tom Davis Dunn in James Cousins Jealousy Credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel
Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in Terra Astra by Jordan James Bridge Credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel
Brenda Lee Grech and Tom Davis Dunn in James Cousins Jealousy Credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel
Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw in Terra Astra by Jordan James Bridge Credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel
Rambert school in Set Fast Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Eve Musto in Five Ruckert Songs by Peter Darrell CBE Credit: Deborah Jaffe
Flavour and Some cocktail duet Credit: Deborah Jaffe

New Futures is a partial misnomer: it's a mix of “modern masterpieces, new creations, legacy works”, so a gala in essence. As often, the programme has to be adjusted for the inevitable cancellations due to injuries, but it’s an interesting mixed bag nevertheless. AD, entrepreneur and compère Jamiel Devernay-Lawrence talks up a promotional storm for each number.

Pianist Viktor Erik Emanuel gets us in the mood at the beginning of each half with a classical extract, tonight from Liszt’s Verdi Rigoletto: Paraphrase de Concert and Ravel’s Gaspard De La Nuit, M. 55: I. Ondine.

The classics are represented by a very brief act 1 solo from Mary Skeaping’s Giselle danced by English National Ballet’s First Artist Minju Kang, and the white swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, performed by ENB Lead Principal Sangeun Lee and First Soloist Gareth Haw, recently seen in ENB’s Royal Albert Hall Swan Lake in-the-round.

Fabulous dancers, a wonderful partnership, they replace a promised Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri. But in this empty big space, it looks like a dress rehearsal, context missing. Brilliant technique and partnering that feels organic, my only problem is from where I’m sitting I struggle to see their feet. Sight-lines are not great, and there is movement to find better empty seats, myself included. The evening has the feel of a family and friends affair, so that’s OK.

There’s a homage to Peter Darrell (1929–1987), celebrating his legacy as Scottish Ballet’s founding director with "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" (from Mahler’s emotive Five Rückert Songs), his 1978 solo performed by Eve Mutso, former Principal of Scottish Ballet. Mezzo soprano Dana Mays, accompanied by Viktor Erik Emanuel on grand piano, completes the sense of a soirée, as Mutso gently drifts around in Isadora Duncan mode in grounded Graham style.

And a chance for three young dancers from Lanterns Studio’s professional training scheme to show their contemporary skills in Insomnia by Scottish Ballet’s associate choreographer Nicholas Shoesmith to ambient music by Ben Chatwin. Contact work is good, but I remember doing this sort of student choreographic work in the eighties.

A curious ‘mystery’ number, Flavour and Some, teams bar cocktail skills with a rather good pas de deux. This is deemed audience participation, as some are given the ingredients for this ‘Ballet Nights’ cocktail, which the couple (cocktail mixers?) in elegant black adds gradually to their glasses. Devernay-Lawrence is nothing if not hyperbolic. “Creative choreography meets culinary excellence”.

The second half has some zingers. It opens tamely and sweetly with After A Dream, a lovely contemporary solo for Kang by ENB Junior Soloist Rentaro Nakaaki (one to watch) to Gabriel Fauré.

Covering all bases, it is followed by ONE, choreographed and performed by Kennedy Junior Muntanga in conversation with the pounding percussion of Guy Salim (Devernay-Lawrence’s brother—did I say it was a family affair…), his body a slave to the beat.

The evening takes off for me in the last three numbers. Jealousy by James Cousins Company, performed by Brenda Lee Grech and Tom David Dunn to Ben Frost’s electronic score, I’ve seen before many moons ago at The Place (possibly under another title) and it is memorable for the female of the pair’s feet never touching the ground, and the strength of the weight-bearing male. Outstanding, complex, entwining choreography from Cousins still thrills.

Set Fast, a piece by Grace O’Brien from Rambert School performed by seven of its students, is the most exciting of the evening. Tinnitus-inducing, throbbing music by Zoe Keating triggers off tremors in the dancers: timing and structure are superbly complex yet sharp and clear. The dancers pulsate, shoulders shrug, bodies feint, it could be hip hop but it’s not, these are AI, I’m guessing, robots in grey and black uniform, programmed to go. And do they go... Set Fast is electrifying.

We go out on a high with Jordan James Bridge’s Terra | Astra, his best yet. Maybe that’s because he’s got the best dancers: Sangeun Lee and Gareth Haw, explicating it with her sinuous body and his slick dynamism. Shimmering, silvery black unitard bodies by Sara Mackenzie give it that extra oomph. They are liquid gold.

James Bridges seems to be more in William Forsythe territory than his usual McGregor inflected style. He is going from strength to strength. Hans Zimmer’s music, arranged and played by Viktor Erik Emanuel, gives the duet that extra lift. A great team: simply wonderful. Why is Haw not a principal yet?

Ballet Nights return 4 September to a new venue, Cadogan Hall, with more goodies promised. Then they tour to Kuala Lumpur and Brisbane (thanks to a connection with Leanne Benjamin, former Principal at the Royal Ballet, now artistic director of Queensland Ballet). Devernay-Lawrence is a dynamo, does his brain ever sleep…

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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