I must admit that I approached City Ballet of Londonís performance at the Peacock with some caution. Last year their triple bill was a very mixed experience indeed, particularly the male dancing. But there is something so eternally optimistic and determined about City Balletís very existence in defiance of all financial logic and in the marked absence of any Arts Council grant, that coaxed me into the theatre. Iím pleased to say that this proved to be a pleasant evening, with the dancers, a number of them new to the company, looking in good shape and much better drilled than last year.
The programme was marketed as Viva ! and all items had a Latin / Spanish theme. It was well thought out and the choices matched the companyís abilities and character well, apart from the Don Q pas de deux which was a shade too ambitious. Itís only worth attempting this if it can be done in a truly grand and authoritative manner, and the dancers didnít quite have the power and confidence to pull it off.
The opening item was van Manenís Five Tangos. This work has been in BRBís repertory, and was performed at the Edinburgh Festival by DNB last year, where it was very popular. Itís quite a testing work for seven couples, which shows off the discipline of the group, or lack of it, particularly the men. CBLís dancers looked impressively well drilled in this, but dutiful rather than exuberant. I recall that van Manen didnít want the work overpitched, but CBL seem to have taken this rather too much to heart, and the performance needed more flair to make it sing. Only the section for two couples where the males seem more interested in each other than in their partners, seemed to have something of the required sparkle.
The middle item was a new work from Christopher Hampson, Canciones, which has had something of a chequered history: copyright permission for the original choice of music was refused and the work had to be hastily remade using another piece. The work does have an episodic and unfinished feel, possibly as a result. Itís set on two couples, accompanied by the singer Rosario Serrano, and is a juxtaposition, rather than a mixture of classic ballet technique (girls in point shoes) and flamenco - Serrano and the men (in heeled shoes) stamping and clapping. Bits of the work looked like padding, but there were some lovely moments. The women (Oxana Panchenko and Emma Greenhalgh) looked deliciously light and effervescent, and swayed and fell dreamily forward into their loversí arms. The work sat very well on the dancers and made them look good, and the audience responded much more positively to this than the van Manen.
The final item was Entre Dos Aguas by Robert North who is now AD of Scottish Ballet, and this proved a very upbeat and popular closer. Again, this was for seven couples, but this was an altogether more exuberant and lively performance than the opening piece (though again, the men had the better of it, choreographically speaking). Itís a piece that demands a lot of the performers but not too much of the audience - one of those feelgood items to sit back and enjoy and not analyse too deeply. What was pleasant about this performance was to see the dancers seemingly growing in confidence before your eyes as the work progressed, and the audience warming more and more to them minute by minute. Peter Ottevanger looked immensely happier in this than in the Don Q pas de deux, and the men in general looked impressive, including Jean Claude Nelson and Yaset Artola Rosell, who also appeared in the Hampson work.
City Ballet are nearing the end of their autumn tour now, but there are still a few dates left. If they were on a firmer financial footing, then they could develop further as a company - the extra polish and syncronicity can only come about when a solid group of dancers stays together and dances together consistently. As a company they have improved much over this last year, and they deserve your support.