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Ballet Triple Bill – The Lowry, Salford

Choreography: Kate Simmons, Mary Skeaping, Maurice Béjart and others

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

[rating:4]

ballet_triple_billBallet Triple Bill is a showcase by the students (mostly seniors) of Warrington-based dance school KS Dance, run by founder Kate Simmons. Before we get to the Ballet Triple Bill proper we are offered West End Highlights, a mixed programme designed to showcase the range of styles, talents and teaching on offer. So the show actually opens with the familiar line-up and distinctive of logo of RENT for Seasons of Love, surely one of the best musical theatre songs of recent years. The cast handle this with its distinctive harmonies quite well. Kate Tucker does a decent job of the Joanne solo although Samuel Jones – the lone male voice – struggles to hit the coda of the difficult Collins solo. This is followed with seven more short pieces of varying quality and interest: Para Charo is a nicely-dressed but dull flamenco-flavoured piece; Jane Bradley’s Inner Battles is OK contemporary dance with some ill-advised jazz hands shields as props; the Gershwin Medley is performed with gusto but reinforces the view that tap should be consigned to the dustbin of theatre history; Aida is a vacuous Lloyd Webber-Rice song that overstretches lead vocalist Hannah Rawlinson and leaves the chorus with little to do except look pretty and pose; Zombies, by Tracy Baxter and set to a distinctive Roisin Murphy song, is stylish and great fun; and Toxic, also by Tracy Baxter, set to a version of the Britney Spears hit is a decent piece of theatre dance with vampirish styling; finally The Orchestra is a series of dances based on sections of said orchestra by Emma Briggs, which is entertaining enough but fairly unsatisfying as a piece.

The first part of the Ballet Triple Bill itself is Kate Simmons’ A Very British Ballet. This is a series of nostalgic scenes of British life from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, set to British lite classics familiar to listeners of Family Favourites. Quite what the young cast – this piece allows some of the younger students to gain some valuable stage experience – make of this saccharine blend of nostalgia and patriotism is anybody’s business. The Land Girls and Boys section and the Mothers and children’s callisthenics sections are good fun. The audience lap up this enthusiastic and optimistic celebration of Britishness with Last Night of the Proms gusto. What can’t be faulted is the bright-eyed enthusiasm of the cast and the ambition and determination of young people who wish to pursue a a career in dance.

The first part of this bill is too long at over an hour and too variable in quality and style. By the end the dancers were starting to make mistakes, not helped by a series of slight technical faux pas with lighting and sound and some overlong pauses. It is clear that a huge effort was being made to show range and give people a chance but unless you are friends and family – as I’m sure many of the audience were – it was an exhausting experience.

And so it was possible to not be holding out great hopes for Act I of Giselle. But this was actually a delight. The dance acting by the entire cast was very good. The peasant girls and lads were plausible and individual and worked well as a company. Rachel Teeling-Smyth was a splendidly innocent and elegant Giselle, who’s moving final scenes were very well done. Samuel Jones did a good job of making aristocratic rogue Albrecht likeable and believable. Laura Robinson as Giselle’s mother showed real talent for creating a credible older character. Katie Tucker (Bathilde) and Joseph Bentley (Hilarion) were also excellent. Mary Skeaping’s choreography, re-staged by Kate Simmons, was traditional (as it should be) and challenged the soloists enough that they started to really convince as a classical ballet company. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable Giselle with a good mix of innocent sweetness, betrayal and the darkness to come.

The final third of the bill was Bolero. This is an unusual opportunity to see choreography by one the greats of the 20th Century, Maurice Béjart. Béjart’s muse Grazia Galanté has worked with KS Dance to restage the piece and work with the dancers and this seems to have paid dividends. Set to Ravel’s music – so familiar now post-Torville and Dean and yet still so incredibly hypnotic and powerful, this is essentially a solo performed on a raised red circular stage surrounded by a dance chorus who are slowly drawn into the choreography. Effective lighting added mood and intensity. This Bolero is exciting. The choreography is simply mesmerising, precise, sinuous, sexy, measured, gradually, gradually building with the music to the drama of that distinctive ending. Bolero will be performed by a different soloist each night. Tonight was Isabelle Ayers. She was outstanding. Focused, liquid-limbed, intensely and steadily working through the movement from start to end. She set the bar high for Nathan Hunt and Jessica Smart who must follow her. She already has a contract with a professional company. She was mesmerising in a piece of choreography that is seductive and distinctive and compelling.

A welcome and unexpected ending to the ballet triple bill.

Runs until 14 July

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