Dance Reviews

Royal Ballet School Summer Performance 2024

Grand Défilé. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.
Grand Défilé. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.

The red velvet; the gold leaf; the enormous crest above the stage: just walking into London’s Royal Opera House conveys a sense of occasion. Imagine what it’s like if you’re just 11 years old, and about to perform on the hallowed stage.

But of course they didn’t disappoint, the 200+ young performers who graced the stage on Saturday 6 July as part of the Royal Ballet School Summer Performance.

Emile Gooding in Concerto Grosso by Helgi Tómasson. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.
Emile Gooding in ‘Concerto Grosso’ by Helgi Tómasson. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.

The afternoon was loaded with emotion even before a dance step was taken, with Christopher Powney noting this was his “tenth and final time” as master of the annual event (Powney hands over the RBS reins to Iain Mackay later this month), before introducing Lynn Wallis OBE, who gave a moving tribute to Barbara Fewster, former Ballet Principal and Associate Director of the School, who passed away in early July.

When I worked in the dance world I often observed that dancers appear much taller on stage that they do off it. But the opposite was true of the younger White Lodge students, who looked tiny on the vast ROH stage. But they wore it well.

'Paquita', after Marius Petipa, Maia Rose Roberts & Ravi Cannonier-Watson. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.
‘Paquita’, after Marius Petipa, Maia Rose Roberts & Ravi Cannonier-Watson. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.

We were treated to excerpts of Petipa’s Paquita, with graduating student Emile Gooding winning particular applause for his blur of leaps, beats and spins.

Didy Veldman’s Toot – with instantly-recognisable music from Shostakovich – was a complete change of tone, allowing the older students to showcase their acting and performance skills.

I was struck too by Royal Remix, choreographed by Iva Lešić, with its genuinely exhilarating music and playful choreography, and its seeming determination to let kids be kids. A child in the audience behind me – perhaps a sibling of one of the performers – said: “Daddy, it’s so funny.” I didn’t disagree.

Ravel’s La Valse – a delightful subversion of the traditional Straussian waltz – was lavishly staged and had a movie-like quality, with the curtain falling at the end of the performance in perfect synchronisation with the music.

TooT (excerpts) by Didy Veldman, White Lodge students. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.
‘Toot’ (excerpts) by Didy Veldman, White Lodge students. ©2024 Royal Ballet School. Photographed by Photography by ASH.

The music of course deserves a mention too, supplied as it was by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the direction of Robert Gibbs. What a treat for the young performers to dance to such an accomplished orchestra, and for the audience to experience such variety.

The afternoon’s highlight was the iconic Grand Défilé, with all performers miraculously pirouetting onto stage and ending up in mathematically perfect precision.

On the evidence of the afternoon, the future of British ballet seems in rude health.

By Matthew Cunningham.

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