City Ballet of London (CBL) are back on the road, with some new dancers, a new ballet master, funding from Associated Newspapers (still nothing from the ARTS Council) and a nice line in Latin dance pieces.
At just over 20 dancers they remain a compact troupe performing bills by established choreographers while commissioning new works as well. Their latest VIVA bill features works by Hans van Manen, Robert North, and Christopher Hampson who, stretching his wings now that he has left English National Ballet (ENB), is also the new Ballet Master. A nice job he seems to be doing too, with more slickness on display than perhaps one has normally associated with CBL for a while.
As a choreographer Hampson has steadily been getting more adventurous in his shows, and Canciones is the most adventurous to date. The piece is split into several distinct parts and uses a Flamenco singer and dancer - Rosario Serrano - accompanied by two, ballet dancer, couples
The start is gripping with all the dancers clapping in flamenco fashion and eventually bringing forward the steps which slowly take over. The boys in the piece do no conventional steps, though their partners (Emma Greenhalgh and Oxana Panchenko, both excellent) get to do pointe work and the pdd for each couple bears the usual Hampson hallmarks - graceful, smooth, flowing but fast, work with some unusual lifts and couplings.
The work of the four is split by Serrano who is a mature flamenco performer, but as they do, amazes you with the sassiness with which they move. But at first her singing particularly seemed tentative and nervous and they need to dial up the volume some more as well.
The set, by Bruce French, was more adventurous too - featuring a dusty striped wall and hammock - warm, high summer days it said and it usefully added to the atmosphere of a courtyard garden in which people come and go.
The music was by Albinez, arranged for piano, but one can't help but wonder what it would have been like to the Mannuel de Falla which was originally planned. But it remains a pleasure tracking Hampson's choreography and I'm really pleased that he is pushing forward with new ideas all the time. Canciones has a lot going on and he should feel pleased (though as is the way with choreographers he won't of course!).
Five Tangos, the van Manen piece, opened the show and is a classy and thoughtful reflection on different aspects of Tango. BRB have this in their repertoire but if anything it looked smarter here. It was led out by Emma Greenhalgh and Benito Marcelino, he naturally all Latin and she elegant and stately. Its perhaps wrong to compare but I can't resist saying that she has the same feel about her as Darcey Bussell. Shame to say that I never really noticed Greenhalgh at ENB (from whence she springs), but now one sees a marvellous dancer at effectively principal level.
Robert North's Entre Dos Aguas rounded off the evening in the appropriate way - light, fast, easy fun and the most obvious group piece of them all. If the van Manen and Hampson pieces are essentially thoughtful reflections of tango, albeit springing from a ballet base, Entre Dos Aguas is 100% tango flavouring (E499B) added to rich chicken stock dance to create a Spanish version of pot noodle! And it's just great.
Joanne de Souza really enjoyed herself and looked more at home than in the classical pieces I've seen her in before. Peter Ottevanger looked less happy though and in the Don Quixote pas de deux, which was squeezed in mid-show, he seemed to have a thoroughly rotten time with little of the panache and finish there really needs to be.
CBL remain the company that everybody wants to see prosper and a UK ballet world without them would seem wrong. Funding remains problematic, but they seem to be finding their feet and are looking more solid and together than ever. This is a an enjoyable programme and they thoroughly deserve all our support.