A birthday offering in dance. Pictures: Magda Hoffman.


Elmhurst Ballet Company


If talent was all it took then some of the future stars of dance were on stage in Legacy at Elmhurst Ballet School, youngsters dancing with confidence, precision and flair in everything from classical ballet from Sir Frederick Ashton to frenetic Duke Ellington Jazz.

This fledgling company is in its fifth year and is growing into itself with each year’s new cast taking up the baton and experience from those who have gone before and who are now finding their place in the world of dance.

The company is a halfway house, a stepping stone, bridging the sheltered, protected life of a pupil at Elmhurst Ballet School and the harsh reality of professional dance, giving Elmhurst leavers a chance to experience what it takes to make that leap from school leaver to pro, a leap where talent is only one of the attributes needed with luck, right place, right time, and all manner of variables fate brings into play.

Elmhurst, the partner school of Birmingham Royal Ballet is celebrating its centenary this year so the progamme opened, and closed, appropriately enough with Birthday Offering, a ballet created in 1956 by Sir Frederick Ashton to commemorate and celebrate the Royal Ballet’s 25th anniversary.

It opens with seven couples making a grand entrance and develops into solos and groups. One of the dancers in the 1956 premiere, incidentally, was Margot Fonteyn, who was born 104 years ago last Thursday.


Argonauts, and all that jazz

Next up was Resonate with a cast of 11 dancing to the dark and light themes of Elliot Moss’s Slip, a song about change and relationships, choreographed by Jack Farren, who is a member of the company, with a degree of style.

From English angst to Argentinian folk culture with Malambo, choreographed by Sonia Fajardo, a graduate of the Cuban National Ballet School with a career as dancer, choreographer and teacher to draw on as a ballet tutor at Elmhurst. Another change in style, in fiery reds and blacks.

The interval arrives with The End is Where We Start, choreographed by Jordan James Bridge for Studio Wayne McGregor – emphasising the collaboration between Elmhurst and the award winning company, McGregor now the President of Elmhurst.

The piece is a nod to the students themselves, who helped create it, the end being their schooldays, the start being the adventure they are about to undertake in the real world.

The second half opens in a flurry of top hats, tails and canes with Doin’ That Doo-Wah Thing! choreographed by Jazz and tap teacher Chris Penfold all to It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from Duke Ellington. Another style and another string to the already well served bow of the young dancers.

From jazz to a tribute to an almost forgotten legend with Bronislava, paying homage to Bronislava Nijinska and commemorating another centenary, this time of her work Les Noces from 1923. It was followed by Les Biches the following year, both for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

The younger sister of the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky she is credited with pushing the boundaries of female ballet technique far beyond the conventions of the age and at the time was the only woman to have made a career as a classical ballet choreographer.

The ballet is choreographed by Avatâra Ayuso who is creating a piece on Nijinska for The National Ballet of Chile, and the piece she has created for the Elmhurst students is trying out some ideas and formats for that. The opening music, incidentally, is Papillons by Robert Schumann, a nod to Nijinska who created the role of Papillon as her solo in 1910 in the ballet Carnaval set to Schumann’s suite of the same name.


Company - the Class of '23

In the dance Jack Farren in black coat and hat with a stick is almost a dance master, a Diaghilev, overseeing a rehearsal of eight ballerinas and one male dancer, a tribute to a Russian dancer with a Latin feel.

Former BRB director Sir David Bintley weighs in with Argonauts from his Orpheus Suite with music by Colin Towns. This is dance set on fast forward with 11 dancers who never stop, almost as if the floor is to hot to stand on, dancing from foot to foot, even when not involved.

It was a jazz themed dance which garnered long applause and it was a toss up whether the dancers stayed to drink in the ovation or just needed time to get their breath back to have the energy to walk off. You were exhausted just watching it.

Legacy ended as it had begun, with another section of Birthday Offering.

The 14 strong Legacy cast is augmented by pupils from years 12 and 13, sixth formers in old money, and the company have been on tour having taken the show to Saddler’s Wells, they go out to teach in schools as part of Elmhurst’s Outreach programme, and, school days receding, they are working and training in the more demanding discipline of a professional dance company. They have had the training in all forms of dance, they have displayed the talent and the company is now giving them the tools to find their way in the arts.

Graduates in the past have gone into ballet, contemporary dance, world famous companies such as New Adventures, musical theatre, teaching and dance related jobs and careers. On this showing the Class of 23 have the class to do the same.

Roger Clarke



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