Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pic by Tim Cross
On the 25th of August, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) celebrated their 30th anniversary by performing Time in Motion at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham – a collection of seven short ballets based around the theme of time. A captivating programme of choreography and performances, Time in Motion is delivered by some of the UK’s most eminent professionals and rising dynamic protégées – not least from Elmhurst School of Dance in Edgbaston.
Time in Motion is an apt title in many ways. Firstly, it represents and celebrates the ethos behind the National Youth Ballet – that of an educative and talent fostering institution who have been bolstering young ballet protégées for 30 years. Secondly, the title and programme reference the ever changing world and dynamics of ballet.
Ballet is itself a physical movement, and over the last few years the way ballet is formed and shaped has changed dramatically; the classical syntax of gesticulation, partner work and extreme en-pointe footwork has been remoulded by a new wave of dramatists, choreographers and dancers.
Opening with Christopher Hampson’s abstract ballet Carnival, the evening started on a fun note, although ultimately the choreography lacked the emotional connection to make the piece truly stand out. Although I enjoyed the can–can sequence, where the company danced round in a circle whilst lifting their tutus to reveal a colourful under layer. This created a wonderful image of a large flower blowing in the wind and did portray the sense of colour and excitement felt at a carnival. Next, Jonathan Payn’s IKEN and Samira Saidi’s Aspirations referenced the more classical style with the corps de ballet and excellent partner work, but at the same time managing to appear completely fresh and new.
For the junior company, Louise Bennett’s Frosty Fable epitomised the confluence of styles well as she choreographed her piece to the Coppélia score by Leo Delibes. Marius Petipa’s Coppélia is a classic of the ballet canon and a mainstay in the repertoires of both Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet. Bennett told the story of two quarrelling siblings who find themselves segregated and taunted by other young children on a cold winter’s day. This ultimately brought the two siblings together. The young cast were fantastic.
The choreography for Steamboat Summer – a short ballet from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s First Artist Ruth Brill, expressed a connection with George Balanchine, who during the twentieth century took classicism and streamlined it with a heightened sense of musicality and muscular movement. Set aboard a transatlantic cruise liner, Steamboat Summer evokes the effervescent heady days of the roaring 20s with flapper dresses and art deco set; the sharp comedic choreography during the swimming and dancing sections reminded me of Kenneth Macmillan’s Elite Syncopations – bold taut lines with rhythmic comedic phrasing matching the jazz score.
Ruth Brill’s previous short ballet, Arcadia (her first main-stage commission premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome in June), told the story of Pan and his transition from God to ruler of Arcadia. Brill’s narrative driven choreography drew parallels with Frederick Ashton’s The Dream but was unable to fully express the emotional psychological transition of Pan and instead harked back to the tradition of Ashton’s romantic gesturing. Unlike Arcadia, Steamboat Summer’s loose narrative enabled Brill to set the scene and explore the comedic/romantic ideas of travelling aboard a cruise liner.
Etta Murfitt’s Oklahoma Dream – inspired by the ‘Dream Ballet’ from the musical Oklahoma! – collides ballet with a musical theatre troupe, in an all-dancing and no singing production number that reflects the themes of time and motion. Here the lines between ballet and musical theatre blur; dreams have no sense of time or reality and Murfitt’s ballet represents this disconnect, with the frenzied scene changes alluding to the dream like quality of the piece. Set in 1950s America, the dancers wore 50s style tea dresses and cowboy attire, resembling an American hoedown with female dancers being twirled like a merry-go-round.
Amidst the crowd are two young dancers who fall in love and decide to marry, only for one jealous cowboy to steal one of them away to a drinking den. This latter sequence became darker and more sinister, with two strutting ballerinas clad in black leather, marching round her drinking and cavorting with the other male dancers. This scene was evocative of the dream sequence in Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s 1950s film The Band Wagon, where Astaire enters a seedy jazz den looking for Charisse who entices him with her raunchy dancing. In the end, as in The Band Wagon, a fight ensues and the dream is resolved with the girl getting her true love in the end.
By far the most abstract of all the ballets from Time in Motion, and my personal favourite, was Rambert graduate Arielle Smith’s T-Symmetry – a performance that looked boldly into the future with a human Vs robot theme. The black background and projections of oscillating shapes created a dark dystopian tone to the piece, whilst the fast-paced score made up of electronic clicks, squeaks and buzzes heightened the intensity of the theme.
The main protagonist jutted and jerked across the stage, with the corps de ballet fixed on the opposite side suggesting the principal was the odd one out. The robot versus the humans. The choreography was very athletic; working close to the floor dancers used every part of their body to produce interesting and bold images of the struggle of the human evolution.
All in all, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain’s Time in Motion proved that time itself is fluid thing. With these contemporary ballets comes an understanding of the themes of the past; Time in Motion is therefore an apt survey of the influences upon contemporary ballet, as well as the changes ballet has incurred over the years.
For more on the National Youth Ballet, visit www.nationalyouthballet.org
For more from Crescent Theatre, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.crescent-theatre.co.uk