2015 Season Review: Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today

National Youth Ballet hosts Gala for its 28th Season

By Rosie Quigley – Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today
October 2015

Last month, the NYB (National Youth Ballet) gave a formidable performance at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre to celebrate its 28th season. Dancers from a range of ages took to the stage with perfect poise and panache as they moved through the plethora of changing scenes. These were directed and choreographed by some of the industry’s leading names.

The Gala showcased the work of emerging choreographers in the Beyond Ballet [platform]: Athena by Arielle Smith, Venn by Eleanor Marsh, and Trotters by Jamie Neale all premiered in this section. Taking inspiration from the famed GiselleAthena puts a much darker twist on the love story; the section is set in a gloomy underworld where two lovers fight for doomed love. An ensemble, led by Bryony Harrison, clad in horned headpieces and leather jackets performed as an unbroken, fiery unit – their movements were mesmerising to watch. One couldn’t help feel sorry for Chris Thomas, the male protagonist in the scene, who was being tracked around the set by the hostile pack.

In Four Seasons, dancers were challenged by the Vivaldi score but none the less manoeuvred with elegance; the only hiccup in the scene was when two dancers took a tumble, nevertheless handled so impeccably that it looked deliberate.

The NYB was joined onstage by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra for a riotous performance of Trotters in which dancers jived and strutted to rousing jazz. During a beautiful rendition of Tarantella small but mighty younger dancers showed their power, creating a wonderfully colourful display.

Wayne Sleep staged staged the show’s dazzling closing scene Cinderella in which Molly Rees, Cinderella, danced a stunning and heartfelt performance. The scene itself was spectacular, with all the magic and imagination of a fairy tale. At one point, tiny mice flooded the stage, using their tails as skipping ropes as a pumpkin gambled around them. Costumes were vibrant and complemented the fantasy of the set design. If this year’s NYB Gala is anything to go by, I look forward to the delights of 2016.



Dancing Times Review – 2015 Season

National Youth Ballet

Dancing Times, November 2015 Issue
Review by Laura Dodge

After a last minute change of venue and a two week delay (due to the discovery of asbestos at The Bloomsbury Theatre), the National Youth Ballet (NYB) gave a very enjoyable gala performance at Sadler’s Wells on September 13.

Under Jill Tookey’s direction, great importance was placed – as always – on works by emerging choreographers. Jo Meredith’s The Sighing commenced with a soldier voiceover reading out a letter to his lover, danced by Cloe Shuffleton. She was then lifted up by a camouflage-clad mass of bodies, such that she appeared to float – sylph-like in a long white dress – around the stage. Her serene stillness contrasted with the fluid and continuous movements of the rest of the cast, concluding as a letter was carried in a ripple through the performers and delivered into her hands as the lights went down.

Arielle Smith’s Athena took an alternative approach to Act II of Giselle using Adam’s traditional music but with horned and black leather jacket-wearing ‘Wilis’ aggressively confronting the ‘Albrecht’. With flat footed jumps and hunched backs they tormented the male lead (Chris Thomas), with only the Giselle-equivalent Bryony Harrison begging for his safety. A final contrastingly calm and tender duet between the leading pair brought Athena to a dramatic but tragic end.

NYB dancer Eleanor Marsh used simple  movements and patterns effectively in Venn, a contemporary piece inspired by Venn diagrams and her first professional commission. Jamie Neale’s pigs and wolves-themed Trotters had an unclear storyline but was performed excellently by company members with superb live onstage accompaniment from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Set to Vivaldi’s music of the same name, Frank Freeman’s Four Seasons demonstrated the company’s classical ballet skills. Grace Swaby-Moore sparkled as Winter, showcasing her secure technique and truly effervescent personality. She also excelled alongside Kaine Ward in Drew McOnie’s brief but joyous contemporary duet, To You.

This year’s gala included Rock ‘n’ Roll, a delightful new piece created by Jenna Lee for three NYB alumni. To a compilation of 1950s music, James Streeter and Max Westwell fawned over Nancy Osbaldeston with playful skips and turned-in steps combined with huge lifts and seriously impressive lifts.

The gala finished with a pleasing performance of Wayne Sleep’s Cinderella. The large NYB cast worked well together to convey the narrative, from the simple movements of the young Mice and Pumpkin to the technically difficult solos. Ward stood out particularly as the multiple pirouetting Jester.





Dancing Times Review – 2014 Season

National Youth Ballet

Dancing Times, November 2014 Issue

Review by Laura Dodge

National Youth Ballet (NYB) is as much a platform for emerging choreographers as it is for young dancers, as demonstrated in its gala performance at The New Wimbledon Theatre on September 1.  The entire second act was devoted to works created by current and former company members, including Padua Eaton, Alfred Taylor-Gaunt, Arielle Smith and Jo Meredith.

The latter’s Suite Bourgeoise was a light-hearted exploration of characters on Margate beach in the 1920’s.  Meredith’s playful choreography included four muscle-flexing men in bathing suits, echoing Matthew Bourne’s Spitfire, as well as two mischievous lovers and a girls’ swimming class.

The most striking new choreography, however, was Drew McOnie’s Little Red Riding Hood (as pictured on the cover of the August Dancing Times).  Accompanied by brilliant original music composed by Tom Deering and played by an on-stage jazz band, the fairytale’s narrative was rewritten to create a modern and engaging ballet.

Frustrated by her dysfunctional family (neglectful mother, weak father and spoilt younger brother), Red Riding Hood ran away from home and experienced the traditional story in a dream sequence, complete with a pistol-wielding human wolf.  Danced brilliantly by the whole cast with Sienna Kelly and Joao Carolino at the helm, Little Red Riding Hood was a thoroughly engaging work showing real choreographic flair.  It was testament not only to the skills and versatility of NYB’s dancers, but also to McOnie’s ability to produce fresh and innovative choreography.

At the more classical end of the spectrum, Samira Saidi’s Aspirations impressed with its elegance and lyricism.  The curtain opened to reveal immaculately posed dancers in long white tutus, who proceeded to perform an array of ballet movements with the utmost poise.  The youngest NYB company members – aged between eight and 12 – also had the chance to shine in Simone Clarke’s Waking Mozart. Set to an arrangement of piano music by the title composer, it was simple choreography performed really well.

Matthew Bourne came on stage at the end of the evening to praise the company and present the NYB Bronze Statuette to Grace Swaby-Moore, who appeared in several ballets but stood out as a wonderful Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood.  Overall, the gala evening showed NYB to be in excellent form and was impressive both as a showcase for talented dancers and as a platform for inventive new choreography.




Dancing Times Review – 2013

National Youth Ballet 2013 Season

Dancing Times, November 2013 Issue

Review by Laura Dodge

The National Youth Ballet (NYB) gives dancers aged 8-18, many of whom are not in vocational training, a chance to stretch their skills and perform in prestigious venues. For 2013’s talented company, this included the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dance at the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace. The line-up of alumni is equally as impressive; Royal Ballet soloists Kristen McNally and Emma Maguire both performed with NYB, and other former NYB dancers can be found in major companies including Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), English National Ballet and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures.

This year’s gala at the Bloomsbury theatre on August 31 showed a diverse range of repertoire that the young dancers seemed to enjoy performing. The highlight was undoubtedly the Edwardian-style Impressions of Sophie, which followed the title character as she grew from small, playful child to geeky teenager, and finally a young woman in the throes of first love. Choreography by Janet Kinson was well-crafted with a charming and engaging narrative, and the ballet gave a large cast of varied ages and abilities the chance to shine. Saskia Gregson-Williams was particularly pleasing as the older Sophie.

Impressions of Sophie


Wayne Sleep’s Toad felt disjointed, perhaps due to its being cut down for the purposes of NYB, but it did have some nice moments. Kaine Ward was excellent in the lead role, with wonderful jumps and characterisation, and Gaoler’s Daughter Grace Swaby-Moore also gave a lovely performance, with particularly well-executed pas de deux alongside Ward.

Other ballets in the programmer included Phoebus Arise, a classical quintuplet created by BRB dancer Jonathan Payn, and Mikhail Fokine’s Polovtsian Dances. There was also the rather unusual inclusion of Small House of Uncle Thomas, a quirky dance interlude form the musical The King and I, though it was well performed by the NYB cast.

What was perhaps more impressive than the dancing on display was the quality of the choreography by company members. Seventeen-year-old Alfred Taylor-Gaunt showed real potential in his Chaos at the Keaton Café, a ballet set to jazz music that followed the frenzied events of a new restaurant’s opening night. His choreography was extremely fun and original with a particularly creative pas de deux and some interesting balances and lifts.

There were two entertaining short works, one by Kaine Ward, winner of the Frank Freeman Choreographic Competition, and the other by Arielle Smith, winner of the first-ever Nijinska Cup. Sugar, a contemporary dance for five girls set to a modern reworking of the infamous Sugar Plum Fairy tune, impressed particularly with its clever musicality.


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Article from Dancing Times, December 2012 issue by Jonathan Gray

National Youth Ballet celebrated its 25th anniversary in fine style with a gala performance at Sadler’s Wells on September 2.  It was a joyous occasion, introduced by patron Monica Mason, who paid tribute to artistic director Jill Tookey.  “Children need to be, must be challenged and inspired,” Mason said, and this is something Tookey has done in abundance for generations of young dancers.

In a programme with no weak links, the dancers of NYB presented no fewer than eight works, all of them beautifully designed, staged and excellently coached and performed – the parents and teachers in the audience must have been very proud.  Opening the gala was Janet Kinson’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, a large-scale work in which Ashley Morgan-Davies danced as the mad-haired Conductor with animated flourish.  Younger students, dressed as sailors, appeared in Judith Harris’ Ship Ahoy, and I was particularly tickled by the boys in the “Drunken Sailor” dance.  Kinson’s Colour Crazy, to Prokoviev’s Classical Symphony, was exactly that – a riot of colour with masses of dancers filling the stage with movement.

Joshua Hutchings impressed with his jumps and pointed feet as Toad in extracts from Wayne Sleep’s Toad, and he reappeared again in the sumptuous celebratory ballet, 25, choreographed by Jo Meredith, in which characters from previous NYB productions, including Pedro the Parrot and Rainbow Bear, appeared and danced.

The second half included Antony Dowson’s lively and enjoyable Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes, which was followed by Drew McOnie’s Dancing Fools, a wonderful musical theatre number to Barry Manilow’s song performed by just a few of NYB’s many alumni.  Then McOnie’s The Old Man of Lochnagar, inspired by the children’s book by HRH The Prince of Wales, brought the evening to a wonderful close.  Ben Bazeley was highly effective as the Old Man, and I was impressed also by Bethany Pike’s Girl and Callum Dyer’s dangerous-looking Eagle.  I particularly enjoyed the characterisations that went on in the work, from all of the birds, fishes and gorms, and the dotty “Underwater Ballet” scene, with its Water Maidens and Watermen, was a sheer delight.

Three cheers, then, for NYB and for everyone who has been involved with it for the past 25 years.  I hope the next 25 will be equally successful.


Ballet Chocolat

National Youth Ballet, Sadlers Wells, London

Sunday, September 11th 2011

The first thing to say is that I echo fellow NYB first timer, Wayne McGregor (resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet) who said on stage at the end of this performance that he was “blown away” by the talent, passion and dedication shown tonight. The NYB exists to fully immerse talented young people around the United Kingdom in every facet of putting on a ballet, which they go on to perform at a professional level. And some ! Joanne Harris, author of the best-selling novel Chocolat upon which the ballet is loosely based, attended the Gala, and the Sadlers Wells audience loved every minute. And here’s why.

Ballet Chocolat gives dancer and choreographer Andrew McNicol his first chance to stage a story ballet. McNicol is talented beyond his years in both areas which show in his production values and detailed, well-drawn characters. He tells the story with the loudest of whispers and his background at Northern Ballet as a Senior Associate serves him well, as the company is well known for its remarkable story ballets that are brought to life by dialoguing the roles in rehearsal, long before the steps.

Taking it’s essence from Joanne Harris’ book and the subsequent Miramax film, Ballet Chocolat opens in provincial France in 1959, just before Lent. Not the best time to open a Chocolaterie, but those who have read Harris’ books will know that she imbues her characters with special powers, sometimes bordering on witchcraft (white witch, of course!), which Vianne, owner of the Chocolaterie, will need in ladles.

Atmospheric lighting by Andrew Ellis combined with Rachel Portman’s closely accented musical score deliver a fast-paced story that gives space and energy for the lively characters to develop.

Olivia Holland, as Vianne, inhabits the role entirely intuitively, arriving with her daughter Anouk (Imogen Bowes) beside her as a small caravan of rose-coloured puddles, into a frozen scene of pesky grey villagers who are under the control of Reynaud, the Mayor (perfectly cast Max Maslen) both dressed in beautiful flowing lava red cloaks. There’s no sign of Anouk’s imaginary friend, the rabbit Pantoufle, but this is a short ballet and the essence of the characters is perfectly distilled.

Maslen’s choreography is pointed and taut, like a fully charged elastic band. His ferocious, frantic and space-grabbing upper body movements reference contemporary moves; his feet are quixotic and pure velvet classicism. He’s a confident dancer, mesmerising in action and, in character, dangerous to know. Vianne confronts him, feet like flashing tinsel shards as she makes her point.

Setting up her Chocolaterie, Vianne and Anouk quickly run into trouble with the locals, who steal and riot, causing havoc. They’re a bit like absinthe; difficult to mix. There’s old Guilaume (Pascal Johnson) and his equally old dog, beaten-up Josephine (acutely danced by Ellena Nou), who initially steals from Vianne, Grandmere (Imogen Myers) and, in a diversion from the novel, Muscat (Jacob Wye). But Vianne has a trick or two up her sleeve, and in the shape of Olivia Holland these materialise variously as a warmly extended hand, a caring face and a will to bring some life and colour to the village. Gradually the dusty, bickering locals are drawn to the Chocolaterie, able to gossip freely for the first time, to savour its warmth, colour and of course, Vianne’s chocolate.

The three women (Gregory Moore, Ruaidhri Maguire and Alfie Smith) provide a contrasting element of comedy against the darkness of village life.

As summer arrives and the Chocolaterie thrives, a group of visiting river gypsies join the locals to celebrate. There are many well used props including a tower of Profiteroles, and when the flower-strewn tables are cleared of the festivities for the dancing I thought we were going to launch into a scene from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! It’s a very well-choreographed routine, with the villagers, led by the Mayor, opposing the river gypsies, led by Roux (Christopher Aguis Darmanin). Darmanin has exactly the right balance of swagger and care, and when he finally gets his pas de deux with Holland’s Vianne, the pair melt into the steps like ganache. Incrementally the choreography heats up, with languid, almost tropical extensions from Holland and strong support, possibly laden with intent, from Darmanin.

Their carousing is not long-lived, as the dancing shadows reveal that the village has been set alight. Vianne desperately tries to make her way through the crowds as smoke billows from the buildings -evocative enough at any time but this is the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and timely food for thought.

Vianne finds her vermillion cloak in a crumpled heap in the doorway, picks it up and, staggering around the stage, very movingly forms it into what she believes to be her lost child, cradling it to her, rocking back and forth as she falls to her knees, sobbing. One of the villagers shakes her out of her misery, bringing Anouk with her, and their amazed reunion is equally touching.

The Mayor’s day of reckoning must surely come – this is chocolate after all and not a sin against the Church. When it does, and the hitherto controlled elastic band collapses along with his moral authority, Maslen lets loose with the choreography and is seduced into devouring the chocolate across several tables. Those Profiteroles were first to go! He’s riveting to watch, in his last year at Central School of Ballet and just 18 yrs– one to watch! You can literally smell chocolate in the air and see it generously stuck to his face as he devilishly gorges with increasingly submission. Vianne embraces him just as she has the others, having won them round with a combination of charm and chocolate. A lesson for us all, surely.

Ballet Chocolat was premiered at Sadlers Wells tonight but it wasn’t the only ballet on the bill and the varied programme contained some absolute delights. I want to mention a few of them : Katherine Collings as Dilys the Dachshund, Isabella Vargiu as Blanche the Baby Owl and the gorgeously adorable Snails who were : Anouska Barratt, Sophie-Zara Davies, Joeley Gibson, Iona Green, Ella James, and Millie Murphy. Costume credits to Robert Allsopp, Caryl Ray and Tessa Balls. Incredible, especially the moths and the snail shells. (I haven’t gone mad; the ballet is called Captain Beaky.

Just for the Sadlers Wells Gala, English National Ballet dancers Ruth Brill and James Streeter, both NYB Alumni, danced Impromptu, a tribute to the late Frank Freeman who was Founder Patron.

I also found La Piazza – Tarantella beguiling and A Cowardly Affair funny and well-choreographed by Jo Meredith with great costumes by Jill Tookey and Tessa Balls. Special mention to Jem Trim.

Ballet News


Mixed Bill

The brain child of former magazine editor Jill Tookey, the NYB was founded in 1988 to nurture young dancers and to give then on-stage experience in a sympathetic environment. Judging by the number who have gone on to major companies something is going terribly right.

Performed at the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge, Kent, the mixed bill provided a varied showcase that suffered only from a surfeit of talent – simply too many feet to follow. But the overall impression is impressive.

Lavender’s Blue was a winsome bucolic romp whose central character Katie Burton displayed real performing chops once she shed her face-covering-bonnet.

Antony Dowson’s premiere of Feeling Groovy, set to the music of Paul Simon , was a clean, crisp and vivid exploration of boy/girl relationships danced with finesse and electric verve, notably Richard Chappell and Eloise Shepherd-Taylor’s Baby Driver. And I enjoyed Molly Jennings’ flirtatious depiction of the irrepressibly naughty Cecelia.

The Captain Beaky ballet, choreographed by Donna Phillips to the Jim Parker/Jeremy Lloyd song cycle, was an anthropomorphic ballet without which no NYB performance would be complete. The costumes were spectacular, with a sextet of snails, give frogs, moths and a rather splendid Harold prancing in joyous synchronisation. Isabella Vargiu pretty well stole the show as Blanche The Baby Owl and the tango sequence was quite raunchy.

The highlight was undoubtedly the premiere of Ballet Chocolat, choreographed by 19 year old Andrew McNicol, based on Joanne Harris’ best selling novel and set to Rachel Portman’s score of the film. It had real narrative momentum with every emotion and twist and turn of the story clearly conveyed through dance and gesture. Max Maslen’s Reynaud was outstanding revealing a spectacular technique.

NYB holds a gala evening at Sadler’s Wells on September 11 when you can spot the stars of tomorrow.

Neil Norman

National Youth Ballet

Olivia Holland

Bringing together talented young dancers from across the UK, National Youth Ballet does sterling work by involving them in the many aspects that contribute towards the creation of a ballet. As artistic director Jill Tookey states in the programme note to NYB’s gala at Sadler’s Wells on September 11, the young peoples’ experience “every aspect… from the conception of an idea, through to a performance on stage at a professional level. The company also encourages children from all walks of life to become involved with NYB through school and community workshops. NYB involves work experience students, young designers, costumiers, musicians and student teachers in all their work” With such inspirational ideals it is little wonder NYB has proved to be so successful.

The Gala showcased a huge number of young dancers in a variety of works, and included a special creation by the young choreographer Andrew McNicol – Ballet Chocolat. The world of Degas was evoked by the older children dancing excerpts from Janet Kinson’s Lee Petits Rats, whist a mass of youngsters skipped prettily through Anna Meadmore’s Lavender’s Blue.

Antony Dowson’s Feeling Groovy (dedicated to Frank Freeman, who was a founder patron of NYB), showed jumping boys and light-footed girls swinging along to a selection of nostalgic 1960’s songs by Paul Simon. Outstanding was Eloise Shepherd-Taylor and Richard Chappell in “Baby Driver”. Donna Phillips’ Captain Beaky brought the first half to a close. This was an inventive and humorous serious of short dancers to music by Jim Parker that included the likes of Harold the Frog, Dilys the Dachshund and Blanche the Baby Owl.

The older dancers took centre-stage for the second half of the evening, where they performed Diane Van Schoor’s Tarantella from La Piazza and Jo Meredith’s sophisticated take on the work of Noel Coward Gertrude Lawrence in A Cowardly Affair. English National Ballets Ruth Brill and James Streeter, both alumni of NYB, danced the duet Impromptu in tribute to Frank Freeman.

Olivia Holland

Olivia Holland dances Vianne in Ballet Chocolat

The evening concluded with Andrew McNicol’s Ballet Chocolat. This highly ambitious work, based on the novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and incorporating Rachel’s Portman’s music for the film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, gave the dancers meaty roles and adult themes to explore through dance and acting. On the whole, McNicol succeeded in conjuring up the novel’s eccentric world, and bravely did not flinch from portraying some of the more unpleasant aspects of the story Olivia Holland, whose bright dancing I have noticed previously during performances at Elmhurst, was a warm, kind-hearted Vianne, and Christopher Augis Darmanin was a strong Roux.

Following Ballet Chocolat McNoil was presented with NYB’s Choreographic award on stage by Wayne McGregor, bringing the proceedings to a very happy conclusion.