British Ballet Charity Gala review – an eye-opening dance extravaganza | Ballet

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The arts are in a Covid crisis and here’s Darcey Bussell to the rescue, masterminding a fundraiser featuring the UK’s six main ballet companies and two major contemporary ones. It’s not your average gala, in the obvious ways – the spaced-out audience, Bussell and co-presenter Ore Oduba beamed in on screen from another room – but in less obvious ways too. Usually at a charity bash you’d expect classical showpieces and princess pas de deux. Here, there’s one tutu in the whole show (worn by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Momoko Hirata dancing David Bintley’s romantic Cinderella) and most of the works are relatively recent. This is ballet now.

So instead of fireworks, there’s the thoughtfulness of Will Tuckett’s Then or Now, made for Ballet Black. Set to poems by Adrienne Rich it is arresting in its own way, performed by a company of strong individuals topped off by the silken quality of Cira Robinson’s dancing. Or Kenneth Tindall’s Bitter Earth, full of visual harmony, a trio (maybe a threesome) in ever-changing formation, 12 limbs beautifully arranged. Each move spurs the next in a chain reaction, the group splitting and reforming like mercury droplets.

There’s still fizzing technique on show, though, especially from Isaac Hernández and Francesco Gabriele Frola in Yuri Possokhov’s Senseless Kindness for English National Ballet. Possokhov weaves virtuosity into his phrases – racing turns and suspended leaps – where other choreographers would treat those moves like full stops.

Thoughtfulness instead of fireworks … Then or Now.
Thoughtfulness instead of fireworks … Then or Now. Photograph: Johan Persson

There is also a lovely duet for Hernández and Alison McWhinney that is like a halcyon view of love, the pair falling effortlessly into each step – a stark contrast to the pas de deux from Jonathan Watkins’ 1984, performed by Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor of Northern Ballet, where even desire cannot triumph over the physical rigidity imposed by Orwell’s oppressive regime.

The Royal Ballet showcase the company’s younger dancers in Valentino Zucchetti’s Scherzo, a fast-paced and fluently crafted work. The Royal’s star dancers may be absent but the B-team is pretty impressive. As are Rambert’s junior company, Rambert2 (the main troupe are currently performing on the other side of town), especially the wiry Jonathan Wade, who packs so much acrobatic power into a small frame.

Matthew Bourne’s Spitfire from 1988 (an oldie!) is his skit on the ballerina face-off of Perrot’s Pas de Quatre, set in the world of men’s underwear models, with pert pecs and Ken-doll catalogue poses. It’s a reminder that Bourne has always been a brilliantly original ideas man. More comedy comes in Sophie Laplane’s Dextera although it takes a bit of warming up, ending with hip wiggling to a bongo beats version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Between the acts come short films about some of the chosen charities and what the night does brilliantly is showcase the breadth and excellence of community dance in the UK. It’s a moving snapshot of the huge value of dance beyond elite performance.

Five stars for spirit, heart, and triumph of logistics, but in reality this gala is not quite a roof-raiser. That’s partly the rep, but there’s no getting around the fact the Albert Hall is not a great dance venue: the audience and small stage are separated by the vast arena floor, populated tonight by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (and it’s a real pleasure to see live musicians). The show will be streamed, however – and this is an occasion where the camera should bridge that gap.



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