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.