July 14, 2009 3:00 am

Royal Ballet School matinée

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This was more like it. After a few years of somewhat lacklustre programming, Royal Ballet School director Gailene Stock pulled out the stops and scheduled Frederick Ashton's The Dream . No better advertisement for her graduating students can be made than to showcase them in a masterpiece, in full set and costumes on the stage for which it was created.

Alas, injury prevented Benjamin Ella, who enters the Royal Ballet, from dancing Oberon and his place was admirably taken by old boy and rising star Joseph Caley from Birmingham Royal Ballet. Unfazed by the change in partner, Elisa Badenes (off to Stuttgart) was a pert and technically assured Titania, pliant of back and fleet of foot. The fairy corps danced with the Ashtonian combination of sharpness of lower and generosity of upper body and admirable musicality, while Jeremy Curnier (Northern Ballet) was a Puck of charm and bounce. Jonathan Hanks (Estonian Ballet) stole the show with a genuinely funny lead rustic. In short, a resounding success.

The other works were more tailored to display rising talent: Ashley Page's quirky classicism, all odd changes of direction and strange partnering, challenged five couples of final year students in his Larina's Waltz , but in the end they won the contest. The most successful item was Stanton Welch's new Les Jeunes Hommes , set to Vivaldi and a showcase for 16 boys of the Upper School. A cool and neat work, it rightly focuses on line, correctness of placement and grace rather than fireworks that require a more developed male musculature, and showed Lucas Lima (Norwegian Ballet) and Tristan Dyer (Royal Ballet) to distinct advantage.

Technical standards have certainly improved under Stock but she and we were all too aware that few of the 220 students who assembled on stage in the now traditional closing Grand Défilé will ever join the increasingly international Covent Garden company (four out of 28 this year). As the destinations of this year's graduates indicate (they all have jobs!), the school now trains for the international market too - whether it is right that the umbilical cord that attaches the company and its school should thus be severed is another question. ****

Gerald Dowler

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