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Review 2, 2-18: Regally Raw
Mixed Results from the Royal Ballet School
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- Students
of the Royal Ballet School performed a varied program at the Sylvia
and Danny Kaye Playhouse (seen February 11) as part of an exchange
program with the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. While the
Royal Ballet has undergone significant turmoil in recent years --
seeing Ross Stretton come and go as director of the company within
a span of eighteen months (Monica Mason was officially named his
successor last December) -- the quality of the technique demonstrated
by the students is a reassuring firm, if static, hand at the company's
As might be expected,
the women appeared physically and artistically more mature than
the men. They possessed a combination of delicacy, strength and
poise, with great attention paid to proper epaulement, reflected
in a consistency from dancer to dancer in unison parts. They are
trained to shape their arms and hands into a soft, pleasing curve
which limits energy released (the most notable alternative is the
Balanchinean flayed hand). The effect is a coiled containment of
adrenaline, which combines with precise head and arm movements to
create a robotic aura. At this level, that perceived negative could
actually be turned into a big boon: these dancers have an excellent
foundation on which to build artistically and technically with the
guidance of an artistic visionary.
The women's feet seemed
to be their most prominent weakness. None of the women have supremely
gifted feet by nature (for the ideal, see those of Sylvie Guillem,
currently dancing with the Royal Ballet). For a company that clearly
reveres a sweet line (and what ballet company doesn't) this must
be somewhat disappointing. Besides the dearth of natural gifts,
some of the students fell off of pointe several times, from sustained
arabesques on releve as well as in the midst of turns. The pointe
shoe is a compromise between support and pliability, and for some,
the correct balance remains elusive.
It is not really fair
to compare the men's stage presence with the women's, due to the
structural divide in ballet's female and male archetypes. Men are
usually trained to be in the background, to sacrifice their own
grace and personality to showcase that of their partners. In that
respect, the Royal Ballet male students largely fit the bill. With
time, they may acquire the bulk and musculature necessary for lifts
(or they'll learn to disguise their efforts better), and certainly
their feet will benefit from good training. After some opening night
butterflies that surely accounted for some hastily reduced pirouette
revolutions, the dancers relaxed enough to regain confidence for
some solid multiple turns.
The program featured
choreography by Mark Annear, Stephen Greenston, Petal Miller-Ashmole,
Christopher Wheeldon, Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton, and works
after Marius Petipa and August Bournonville. Wheeldon's pieces closed
both halves of the program. As an alumnus of RBS and given his current
title as resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, Wheeldon's
presence neatly melded tradition and newsworthiness (new-worldliness?).
He contributed "Souvenirs," a black-tie ballet that builds to a
tango between one woman and ten men; and "Le Voyage," performed
in sleek green and blue leotards. Here, Balanchine's influence seemed
grafted onto RB propriety in an aural and kinetic cacophony -- not
Wheeldon's finest moment. Perhaps this work fares better on a larger
stage than the Kaye's, which is not nearly big enough for the ensemble.
Suite" turned out to be the best vehicle for this troupe, a nine-part
work that moved through different solos, pairs, and groups. He used
very specific epaulements -- a subtle tilt of the head on a specific
count, combined with shoulders set at certain angles, arms as well.
The other more traditional fare included the Pas de Trois from "Sleeping
Beauty" (Petipa), the Pas de Douze from "Swan Lake" (Ashton), and
"Flower Festival at Genzano" (Bournonville).
The company handled
equally well the "modern" ballets: Greenston's "We Are Here," with
Philip Brock-Atkinson lifting Olivia Cowley like a plank, or swooping
through the air in a pike position; "Concert Fantasy" (Miller-Ashmole),
in which the feisty Momoko Hirata and Martyn Garside clicked as
a pair even when faced with repeated turns dropping directly into
a penche; and "Concerto Pas de Deux" (MacMillan), a contemplative
duet featuring arms sweeping like clock hands, danced by Jenna Roberts
and Oliver Speers.
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