Elmhurst Ballet Company
Shaw Theatre

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Elmhurst Ballet Company in Fete Galante Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in La Bayadere Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in Spartacus Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in Geomantia Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in The Invitation Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in FAR Credit: Magda Hoffman
Elmhurst Ballet Company in A La Mode Credit: Magda Hoffman

Elmhurst Ballet Company, the graduate year of Elmhurst Ballet School, brings a mixed bill showcase to London to celebrate the school’s twenty years in Birmingham. In the Shaw Theatre, not far from Euston Station—instead of the usual annual visit to Sadler’s Wells’ small Lilian Baylis Studio—which gives them more room to fly.

The cohort of nineteen dancers, girls outnumbering the boys as usual, is strong in a range of styles, in eight pieces, classical, contemporary and musical theatre.

Fifteen girls (four are year 13 students) open the evening with Marius Petipa’s "The Kingdom of the Shades" from La Bayadère. The coltish boys bravely take on Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus (music Aram Khachaturian) in the second half. And all do remarkable well.

The whole company (again with some year 13s) close the evening with Michael Corder’s courtly Fête Galante. Think Watteau, but in relaxed costumes after the ball. To Scarlatti’s lovely "Suite" from The Good Humoured Ladies, Corder’s original work rounds off an excellent programme representative of the dancers’ range. Year 13 students are roped in to fill out the numbers in three pieces. Well done them!

Interspersed with film interviews, in which the dancers articulate what they have gained in eight years of learning, how they have matured and how they hope to pass on their valuable experience. Parents and friends, and maybe even agents, in the audience give them a hearty, proud welcome.

Two modern pieces are by Cris Penfold, whom I remember as Toad in Wind in the Willows at the Linbury Studio, now a teacher at the school: a jazzy Keeping the Faith (music from the 2002 jukebox musical Movin’ Out) and a catwalk À la Mode (reminds me a little bit of Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show), a mélange of jazz, ballet, and contemporary.

Fashion Design students from Birmingham City University’s School of Fashion and Textiles designed and crafted the theatrical costumes. Looks fun. Many well-known dancers work as models these days. Music is funky and punky.

Geōmantía (“an ancient Greek practice utilising ground markings for prophecy”) by Scarlett Brass, an Elmhurst Ballet Company artist, is serious, short and sweet to a strong beat from Talabout by Stavroz. Another new piece, by Sandrine Monin, The Invitation, to Saint-Saëns via Mooryc, the company clad in black and silver, is a ‘Crystal Pite’ flowing amoebic mass.

But the longest piece, and a special piece for them, I think, is a Wayne McGregor number—their sixth project as part of a continuing relationship with Studio Wayne McGregor—his 2010 FAR. Neil Fleming Brown, a Company Wayne McGregor artist, was their coach. He and Catarina Carvalho oversaw the plain staging.

I bet the Elmhurst lot love it as much as the Royal Ballet dancers—McGregor’s signature challenging hyperextensions, undulating sway backs, that flexible spine that ripples from coccyx to head—dancers like to be stretched. To Ben Frost’s music, electronic and technical, the dancers carry McGregor’s legacy. Costumes by Moritz Junge were donated by Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia. McGregor is Biennale Danza Director.

The Elmhurst Ballet Company is a preparation, an optimistic staging post, for professional life after school. They work with established artists and deliver outreach sessions in schools in their final year. I’d like to single some out, but I can’t put names to faces.

They are a delightful, seemingly confident, bunch: Lucie Apicella-Howard, Scarlett Brass, Ellis Gilbert, Imogen Hart, Nicholas Hepher, Amy Hickey, Marlo Kempsey-Fagg, Mandy Kwan, Monica Langlois, Victoria Lavalle Mendoza, Yuna Nomura, Gabriele Pitzanti, Nicole Rutter, Hana Sato, Zara Scott, Ida Sorensen, Isabella Streckfuss, Pietro Vittoria and Kiera Wilkinson. I hope all their hard work and commitment pays off for them all.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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