England's Royal Ballet School has a campus in Richmond ... England -- the site of the RBS lower school — which inspired our own School of the Richmond Ballet to invite the Thames dwellers over to spend some time on the James in a week-long residency culminating in a series of performances this past weekend.
Students of both schools, including Royal Ballet School recent graduates and trainees and apprentices of Richmond Ballet, revealed in their performances and poise the strengths of both programs. The Royal Ballet School follows a strict syllabus, through which progression is slow and meticulous. It shows. In a series of works ranging from the strictly classical to the contemporary, the Royal Ballet performers demonstrated exquisite technique and a regal, assured performance style.
Claudia Dean's silky physicality complemented both "Swan Lake Pas de Quatre" (choreographed by Frederick Ashton) and Parrish Maynard's recent "Fractals," the latter work screaming "ballet can be badass too" with many head-high battements, forward-thrust pelvises, and under-the-eyebrow glares set to a spare, slow techno beat. Dean projected the required attitude without self-consciousness, scrubbing the choreography clean of heavy handedness.
"Romanza," choreographed by Gary Norman, showcased the classical partnering skills of the Royal graduates, as well as their luscious extensions and clean lines. Seven men decorated the stage with their lovely partners, mostly airborne, and the closing image of a ballerina reaching gently skyward while slowly twirling on her partner's outstretched arm, evoked the slow charm and spinning beauty of a snow globe.
To complement the Brits' impeccable skill, the Richmond Ballet selected lively group works with gorgeous ensemble dancing for its trainees and apprentices -- who customarily do the heavy lifting in the corps de ballet scenes of big-story ballets such as "The Nutcracker," "Giselle," or "Swan Lake." Nineteen young women danced an excerpt from the Royal Ballet's recently staged "Giselle," as the ghostly Wilis in long, romantic tutus, heads bowed, hopping en masse in arabesque in a scene fit to alarm straying young men lost in the forest on a moonlit nights. Similarly, "Russian Suite" (jointly choreographed by Nicholas Beriozoff, Jasmine Grace, and Malcolm Burn) brought mobs of cheerful young dancers to the stage to exhibit their character dancing skills — the seven male trepaks being a highlight, with their coffee-grinders and big split jumps.
No American-British program -- or programme, if you prefer -- would be complete without a Balanchine ballet to highlight the leggy speed of what became a signature American style (from the itinerant Russian choreographer), and the confection "Valse Fantaisie" fit the bill, with swift and sprightly waltzing by all five ladies and one cavalier.
Applause to both of these companies, with hopes the friendship will grow long and bear more fruit in the future.