There's something about small children dancing that causes my eyes to mist up, especially if they're good at it. My eyes were misting up quite a lot at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday (13th) at the 'Stars in the Round' event organised on behalf of dance schools throughout the UK. Kids as young as seven were hoofing it alongside oldies of 16 or 17, their small faces puckered in absorbed concentration. I say 'hoofing it' because this was definitely a show of show dancing - it was a bit like watching the Kids from Fame thirty times over, but none the worse for that. It was a hugely entertaining evening.
'Stars in the Round' had been organised by Mardi Gras Promotions, who regularly co-ordinate dance and stage schools performances at West End theatres and at Sadler's Wells, at Disneyland in Paris and even on Broadway - one of the schools we saw on Saturday, Footlights,will be performing at the New York City Festival of Dance in September alongside - amongst others - New York City Ballet and the Mark Morris Dance Group (and you can hardly get more kosher than that!). The show was breezily presented by the ebullient Paul Ross (brother of the more famous Jonathan) and I'd guess that not a little of its success was down to him.
From a chat I had with one of the organisers, it seems that many of the young performers know that they will not make it to the professional stage, but that most continue their training for the sheer enjoyment of dancing, and in particular of dancing in large, well-drilled groups of like-minded kids. Plus there's the fun of dressing up in.. well, sequins 'n feathers and sexy stuff like that. More seriously, I do think that the poise and confidence displayed by all the young performers speaks volumes for the value of dance training. I thought that every one of the 25 or so schools represented could be proud of their achievements - I can't possibly single out any one of them for praise because they all deserve praise! I have to say though that, for sheer drama, 'Cry of the Celts' performed by the McCarthy-Felton School of Irish Dancing stands out. Several eerily hooded black clad figures glided noiselessly on to the stage and from beneath their capes out stepped - several very small girls, aged no more than seven as far as I could guess, who then performed a very complicated, rythmic step dance with seamless perfection. Impressive.
The standard of the items danced was high. There seemed to be real choreographic logic behind each individual piece and from where I was sitting some of the floor patterns would have done Busby Berkeley proud. This, despite the fact that the choreographers are largely unknown (from the programme they seem to be the individual schools' proprieters).
Notable, though, was the lack of boys - it was not uncommon to see one lone boy amongst twenty or more girls. Billy Elliott, where are you? The news that the Royal Ballet School is taking on more boys than girls this season is heartening, though, and may be the sign that things are beginning at last to change. Let's hope.
In the interval, I chatted to Kasper Cornish. He's the brave ballet dancer who featured in the 'Faking It' television programme training to be a wrestler, with considerable success, and no wonder - he's well over 6 ft. tall and muscular with it. He was enjoying the show as much as I was and was impressed by the dedication and discipline of the performers. He's shortly going to be dancing in 'My Fair Lady' at the Drury Lane Theatre, he told me.
In all, 950 young performers took part in 'Stars in the Round' and, unbelievably, every one of appeared in the finale, all clad similarly in red T-shirts. Even more unbelievably, they had only learned the routine at 5.30 p.m on the day of performance! It was a stirring sight to see 950 right arms go up in unison followed by 950 left arms and then 950 bodies turn in perfect synchronisity. As I said, impressive.