English National Ballet School’s Virtual Summer Performance

Choreography Annabella Lopez Ochoa, Didy Veldman, Andrew McNicol
English National Ballet School / Post production BalletBoyz and Manilla Production Ltd

English National Ballet School’s Virtual Summer Performance

Choreographer Andrew McNicol puts his finger on the button, in the "Conversation with Choreographers" which ends the half-hour streaming of English National Ballet School’s Virtual Summer Performance when he says it’ll be more about cinematic skills than the dancing. My first thoughts exactly.

So, I watch it twice. The first time for the fascinating filming, split and multiple screens, Rorschach mirror images, collage and montage, and settings, indoor and out; the second for the third year graduating dancers and the choreography.

Filmed across four time zones by students, with some family assistance at a guess and virtual coaching from the three choreographers, but, as Didy Veldman says, the no hands on involvement is frustrating for all concerned. Ballet is tactile—here of necessity it is in a sterile bubble. But needs must, and the overcoming of restrictions is intelligent and ingenious.

Two short pieces, Memorias de Dorado and Gradus, bookend a longer one, Not So Strictly by Didy Veldman, who already has experience of long distance virtual choreography for World Ballet School Day last week. All are impressive, though it’s impossible to single anyone out of the mix. Strange to say when much of the work was done in isolation that they are all collective works. Solidarity in critical times… the new reality…

Annabella Lopez Ochoa’s Memorias de Dorado, music by Max Richter, only five minutes long, uses twenty-four dancers projected onto a room in a traditional house in Japan, and it is beautiful. A young man in kimono reads a book on the treasures of the Dorado, which morph into the treasures of the ballet school, its international bunch of dancers.

On the walls, floor, lampshade and corridors, graceful young boys and girls make a kinetic art photography exhibition. The calligraphic images are striking, held poses and simple gestures. The boy carries a stack of books on his neck, stands on two piles: the weight, the stepping-stones of the past, and its support.

Veldman’s Not So Strictly lightens the pensive mood. Joe Loss’s jaunty big band sound, ballroom dance and cool jazz, gets the legs swinging. The editing is slick, the screens portholes into the dancers’ worlds. In gym, on balcony, in the road, on a building site, in the park, on parquet floor and grass, thirty-nine dancers waltz alone, with virtual images, with family and pets, and the music sweeps you along. Khachaturian’s Masquerade Waltz takes over and it’s all I can do to sit still.

The aware Andrew McNicol presenting Gradus, to music by Peter Gregson, allows the dancers a voice, which is admirable, but as always I’d prefer that in some sort of programme notes. But voice they need, and who am I to say otherwise, a voice to support their passion for dance, and its concomitant benefits. Twenty-one dancers take part; a few speak for them all. Breaking through the medium of film, reaching out to us, they must sustain that promise and hope for the best.

Royal Patron Princess Beatrice and Director of Dance Viviana Durante introduce the streaming, Alessandra Ferri gives a pat on the back and a pep talk to camera for the students, and the choreographers with Durante close the brief presentation.

In the theatre, they would have had a fuller programme. Poor students having to make the best of a difficult situation, but kudos to them and all involved... As Ferri says, be positive, “when a door closes, sometimes another opens”. What alternative is there?

Testing times for them all creatively and mentally. Veldman talks of giving the students freedom to improvise not just with dancing but costume, music, where to put the camera, how to stay in the frame. More than a ballet curriculum, then, another string to their bows...

Reviewer: Vera Liber