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.
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.