As a massive dance – and particularly ballet – fan, it is always a privilege to have the opportunity to see young dancers, still in training, before they make that leap to join a professional company.
Elmhurst Ballet School, working in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, is the top classical ballet school in Birmingham and one of the best regarded full-time vocational schools in the country. Their end of year showcase, Summer Variations, presents a combination of classical ballet, jazz, contemporary and flamenco. The performance I attended involved the Upper School students and included a very special treat; a new ballet choreographed by David Bintley (Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet) specifically for the graduating class.
The evening opens with Explosion Polka, performed by Year 13. Choreographed by Frederick Ashton, this piece is revived for the first time in over thirty years. The students display a firm grasp on the Ashtonian style with quick neat footwork and elegant, symmetrical lines of the head and arms.
Next Breath, a contemporary piece choreographed by Stephan Delattre, offers the first chance to see the graduating Year 14 students. Brogan McKelvey (one of three Elmhurst students bound for Birmingham Royal Ballet next year) stands out with long rippling limbs and cat-like elevation. The company all display a keen sense of the contemporary style, tackling the dynamic movements and off-balance elements of the choreography with ease.
Elmhurst boasts a small but very impressive contingent of male dancers in Years 12 and 13, as observed in the Schumann Piano Quintet. Ryan Felix (a ballet finalist in BBC Young Dancer of the Year) takes the lead with bold and beautiful technique.
It was the turn of Year 14 to test their classical mettle in Suite of Dancers – another Ashton piece revived by Errol Pickford and Lei Zhao. The tiny Saho Nozaki (headed for Atlantic City Ballet) impresses in the Rhapsody Pas de Deux, combining assured, confident technique with a lightness of touch rarely seen in such a young performer.
The two flamenco performances Compromiso and Soleá, choreographed by Ana Garcia, show the impressive technique the students accumulate throughout years of specialising in this art form, alongside their ballet, contemporary and jazz. Complex rhythms, fast footwork and gorgeous back bends contribute to a palpably fiery atmosphere. Year 13’s Joseph Tidswell commands this Spanish style with his subtle, charismatic performance.
David Bintley’s Comic Cuts is a joyful finale to a fantastic evening. Set to music by Raymond Scott, composer of the iconic Looney Tunes soundtrack, Bintley reflects the students’ personalities with cartoonish characters and quirky steps. Billy Brooke and Jordan Wright shine in a comedic duet as two very dapper Penguins. Hamish Scott (bronze medalist at the recent Genee awards who also heads to Birmingham Royal Ballet) is very impressive with a fine English-style technique, assured partnering skills and a relaxed performance style.
Summer Variations by Elmhurst Ballet School is an absolute delight; a chance to celebrate the students graduating to ballet companies all over the world, and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a new generation of talented dancers.
For more information about Elmhurst Ballet School, click here.