At the end of the Royal Ballet School’s annual performance at Covent Garden all the pupils came dancing on, crowding the stage. Their accompaniment was Knudage Riisager’s orchestration of Carl Czerny’s studies (they were once the grounding for many a young pianist), which was used by Harald Lander in his exuberant Etudes, celebrating the ardours of balletic schooling. There, on Friday, was the heart-lifting complement of the RBS, from bright-faced, careful-limbed tots to young artists who now launch themselves on to the stormy seas of a professional career.
Well, heaven bless them, for they looked handsome and eager and the evening’s programme had done much to persuade us of their abilities and their dedication. The most senior students were in their late teens – and I recalled for a moment those “baby ballerinas” of the Ballets Russes in the 1930s (and especially of my friend Irina Baronova) who were called upon to head a ballet company and undertake leading roles in works by Fokine, Massine, Balanchine, winning the world’s admiration at the age of 14 or 15. The RBS young are more pampered, less-tested artists, but do very well according to their lights.
I am not persuaded that Ninette de Valois’ Checkmate, which opened the programme, is best served by untried dancers. The cast worked decently, but these sharply defined characterisations demand professional understanding, which is inevitably lacking. Thereafter, repertoire and performances were very encouraging.
The evening was in honour of de Valois, and brought works that her choreographic progeny had made: Ashton’s luminous space-walkers in Monotones 2, beautifully done; an admirably judged, sweetly danced Danse Bohémienne for young students by Liam Scarlett; excerpts from MacMillan’s buoyantly classical Four Seasons (which must return to the Royal Ballet repertory); John Neumeier’s touching Spring and Fall, whose young cast won my heart by their sincerity and grace; David Bintley’s En bateau, with its Edwardian bathers sunnily shown; and the tensions of John Cranko’s haunted response to Webern’s Opus 1 Passacaglia admirably well brought off.
It was, I thought, a fine homage to the founder of our national ballet school and company: an assertion of a classical identity that we are currently in danger of corrupting. Hurrahs for the young!