Do please forgive my indulgence for a piece in the style of Graham Norton and the Late Show. I had a nice night and I wanted, for once, to record it in its rich entirety...
Somehow I wangled my way into the Schoolís Gala Opening Night - by dint of simply being too busy for the ordinary opening the next night. This was good... the champagne was delicious, the canapes (especially created for the evening) scrummy and the clothes on display looked beautiful. Michael Portillo, local MP, was there and looking amazingly at ease given there had just been a Conservative Party leadership vote that day.
We were all at the rather sweet Britain Theatre. Itís tucked away behind the Royal Albert Hall, and a little charmer of a space. Modern and light but horseshoe-shaped and homely, though without all that heavy Victorian gilding. Why more dance is not seen there I can't fathom.
The performance was short - "Le Sylphides" and a new piece, "Esqisses" by Christopher Hampson. Dame Alicia Markova, ENB President and big expert on Les Sylphides was to attend and Hampson had been dispatched in a chauffeured limo to pick her up. And there she was with us - somebody who had auditioned for Diaghilev and Nijinska and joined the Ballets Russes in the same year as Georgi Balanchivadze. That was 1924 and Balanchivadze had just left Russia and decided to change his name to Balanchine...
But Hampson isn't the only one to mix it with great ladies... for myself these days I seem to specialise in choreographersí mums, having had a long chat with Cathy Marston's mum at the Peacock, Images of Dance, show on Sunday and here with Christopher Hampson's mum. However she did arrive very late and was a little apoplectic lest she miss her sonís latest work. Hampson himself looked worried while we all wondered where she was. I was worried too, only buoyed up by the further quaffing of champagne and the grazing of the odd canape. And one tended to talk about what a great Conservative leader Ken Clarke would make... I was in a playful and pleasant mood! But enough of this scene-setting.
I do like a good Sylphides, impossibly romantic and not quite impossibly hard, it is a strong test of technique and maturity in stagecraft. That's particularly true for the boys where itís very easy to appear rather camp and not a little daft. The School brought it off well, mainly from having such cracking technical standards - if there was one thing that everybody talked about it was the generally high standards of the students this year. While I like the theatre, Sylphides looked a little cramped at times I thought.
The stage somehow looked a perfect size for the Hampson piece despite it being a homage to 19th century tutu ballet with 'massed' ranks of ballerinas etc. After a few bars of the music everybody was scanning the programme to find who the composer was: Alkan. For piano itís very musical and goodness knows how it was missed before.
In all Hampson has created 8 crisp pieces for everything from corps through to pdd and Solos, all smoothly linked by a masterpiece of filling and un-filling the stage. This was full company standard 'stuff' and the school was doing it justice (for a first night!)
One of my favourite sections has the boys sweetly sending up tradition by moving the girls into ranks or generally around the stage for the next pose - itís quite subversive and not so over the top as, say, The Concert and it takes a while to cotton on to what is happening. In another piece the girls are all in their lines and magically wafting the air ≠ it seems so obvious but I've never seen it done like this before. It was full of such cameos and the end came far too quickly.
This is 19th Century tradition speeded up and loosed of some if its stiff corsets and it shone brightly. I find something in all his works but for me this was probably his best yet (but I do love Concerto Grosso). It's great to see him handling so many dancers and so much dance on stage at the same time. Also good to know that this piece is effectively a sketch for what he will be doing with ENB this autumn and which will be performed at the Coliseum during their Christmas season.
This is a piece that many will take note of, I thought. And with that I climbed into the Morgan, with Hampy's mum, for a run around central London on a warm summerís night, waving at everybody (Hampy's mum that is - I'm far too straight-laced!). It was a good night - and one of my very best ballet experiences in the last year.