Review: Images of Dance

COTTIA THOROWGOOD: ‘It was the creativity and expression of the pieces that was so absorbing, surprising and laudable’

London Studio Centre Margret Barbieri Royal Ballet

Friday 28th-Saturday 29th May, 7.30 at the ADC Theatre.  £8-10.

Just as a Japanese water flower holds promise of beauty in its tight form, and yet still manages to surprise and delight in its beautiful unfurling, the London Studio Centre’s performance was similarly enchanting beyond expectation. A triple bill of new choreography from Margret Barbieri, former principal at the Royal Ballet, the three pieces were fantastically different. The classical start with Dvorak’s Serenade on reflection seemed like compulsory barre work for its conventional yet stunning format, when compared with the imagination and modernity in the other two.

The all female corps sprang in and out of unity around the single male lead who must have felt pretty adored flocked by his nymph-like entourage.  For me, the whole piece gathered even greater renown when the choreographer came to bow, and it transpired, as it so often does that my companion had herself been taught by him. Oh the joys of having glamorous friends.

There was at first something rather off-putting about watching professional ballet in such familiar and small surroundings. I wasn’t at first sure if the dancers seemed to be confined by the stage’s limits, or my mind to the idea that this setting was ‘wrong’. My expectations of Royal Opera House settings for ballet performance are limiting, but for such a notoriously structured and aesthetically sculpted discipline as well, one’s eye gets trained to be similarly critical.

Did it matter that I noted the height and shape differences amongst the dancers? Yes, of course it matters, and is revealing in how far our eye is not our own in what and how we perceive. But what mattered more was how over the course of the evening I stopped noticing, thinking and speculating and became as one should in all Good Performances, engrossed in the spirit of the piece.

And pieces of resistance they truly were. Besides the precision that all ballet of high standard such as this requires and is notable for, it was the creativity and expression of the pieces that was so absorbing, surprising and laudable. Perhaps here the smaller stage and reduced audience-dancer distance was only an attribute. The fantastically contemporary yet classical zest of ‘Sub Luminous’, made me think of a group of black widows – both as spiders for their controlled elegance and anatomical extensions, and as women for their stunning black costumes and fractured dance, like some funereal group ululation.

The evening progressed through to an end piece involving the Belleville-Rendezvous-like caricatures of a ballet’s audience members and the most charming of charming ‘dying swan’ (thank you Tchaikovsky) choreography. It began like that scene in 101 Dalmatians (Disney version); prim girl sitting on a park bench with that tell-tale sign of future romantic encounter, the extended dog lead, and managed to flow through a wonderfully constructed sequence of events, where park visitors construe themselves as various shrubs of trees so as to spy on the blossoming romance (very Foucault and his panoptic gaze for any revising anthropologists…).

No better day to go to the ballet than the day that Fonteyn (arguably Britain’s most famous prima ballerina) was revealed to have been involved in attempting a coup with de Castro to overthrow the Panamanian government.  That vitality behind so disciplined and precise an art has to come from somewhere. Such physical and emotional stamina is often overlooked in ballet, and it is no anomaly that the audience was more a family than student body. It is high time the lethargy towards mute and classical performance is dispelled and this form of art, energy and humour is revisited.