The Elmhurst Ballet company in Féte Galante which can tranlate as Courtship Party. Pictures: Magda Hoffman


Elmhurst Ballet Company


Watching young performers at the dawn of what they hope and dream will be a long career within the world of dance always brings a mix of emotions, the hopes and fears for their futures.

Dismiss any thoughts of a school concert - this was a company of dancers who would not have looked out of place on the Hippodrome stage under the BRB banner, they were that good.

In footballing terms this is the academy team from which you hope the likes of Giggs, Scholes and Mainoos will emerge. Whether we watched the next Acosta, Nijinsky or even Robert Parker, or saw an emerging Fonteyn or Pavlova, only time will tell – there are few harder mistresses to please than the performing arts.

The company, now in its sixth year, was set up by Elmhurst Ballet School to create a bridge to take final year pupils on the journey from the comfortable environment of school to the rather more dog eat dog world of professional dance.

It is to all intents and purposes a professional company, academic subjects discarded for daily dance classes, tours, sessions and collaboration with professional companies and an outreach programme taking dance and its teaching into the city’s schools.


La Bayadère: The Kingdom of the Shades

That start to the journey from pupil to professional hopefully gives the school leavers an edge when they come to look for jobs in real world dance companies – at least they know what they are in for and what is involved.

Mode opens with a classical and precise ballet ensemble with the deceptively simple The Kingdom of the Shades from the legendary French choreographer Marius Petipa's La Bayadère.

The ballet was first performed at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St Petersburg in 1877, and was immediately seen as a masterpiece.

The 11 company dancers were joined by Amber Cook, Charlotte Roberts, Chelsea Potter and Nora Yun Schaefer who are year 13 students in what is a classical, almost regimented corps piece which included a trio danced by ZaraScott, Victoria Lavalle Mendoza and Yuna Nornura.

The dancers enter one by one with metronomic  precision like the slow ticking of a clock, gradually filling the stage in a trail of tutu clad ballerinas.

Geōmantía, which apparently is some ancient Greek method of prophecy is choreographed by Scarlet Brass, a member of the company, all set to the insistent beat of Talabout from Belgian organic electronic group Stavros. Ten dancers in white trousers, again with a year 13 student, and once again it is Amber Cook.

Keeping the Faith is choreographed by Cris Penfold who is perhaps better known for theatre and musicals than ballet in a piece using The River of Dreams, Keeping the Faith, Only the Good Die Young, a track from Piano Man Michael Cavanaugh in the Tony award winning jukebox musical Movin’ Out based on the music of Billy Joel.



It opens like a scene from West Side Story without the angst and has an up tempo feel involving virtually the entire company with 18 dancers.

President of Elmhurst is Wayne McGregor and Far is a piece he has created with the company, it is theirs as much as his, set to music by Icelandic based Australian Ben Frost. Neil Fleming Brown, a Company Wayne McGregor artist along with Catarina Carvalho oversaw the creation which stretched both the flexibility and ability of the dancers. Who would have thought human backs could bend that much . . . one of the longest pieces of the evening, it included a lovely duet to a haunting mournful theme danced by Mandy Kwan and Marlo Kempsey-Fagg.

Á la Mode saw another piece choreographed and rehearsed by Penfold, this time in conjunction with young up and coming theatre choreographer Christopher Tendai, and Elmhurst Director of Dance Training, Denise Whiteman.

An eclectic selection of music I Like The Way from Dylan Burns and Kaz James and another Burns’ composition For One Night Only, both performed by the Bodyrockers, either side of Ludwig Van BadGuy (After Beethoven & Billie Ellish) by Evan Ziporyn provide an equally eclectic mix of dances with zippy jazz morphing into softer more ethereal ballet and drifting into the freedom of contemporary dance.

An addition to the repertoire was a new collaboration between Elmhurst and second year students from Birmingham City University's BA{Hons) Fashion Design programme who have created a series of colourful costumes for the dance with hints of Latin salsa, jazz and even gypsy adding to the flair of the dancers.

Perhaps the most challenging dance was an all male affair from Aram Khachaturian’s ballet, Spartacus, chorographed by former Bolshoi artistic director and later choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich, and adapted and rehearsed by Elmhurst classical ballet tutor Michael Raynaud.



Spartacus, as you would expect, is very much a macho ballet, the story of the slave gladiator revolt around 70BC and the dance has to convey that gladiatorial air, which the five company members managed with aplomb, aided by gladiator conscripts Thomas Kujawa, Spike Frobisher and Francis Morgan from year 13.

Sandrine Monin’s The Invitation, set to Saint-Saëns Mooryc, was premiered by Elmhurst two years ago and returns with the company in variations in silver and black with, again, 18 of the company on stage.

The finale is Féte Galante choreographed by Michael Corder and set to Domenico’s Scarlatti’s delightful Suite from The Good Humoured Ladies ballet. It was a ballet with a strange origin. It was created in Rome in 1917, premiered by Ballets Russes with a narrative based on a 1758 comedy using the wonderful Baroque sonatas of Scarlatti (1685–1757) adapted as the music.

The piece is broken into four distinct movements with the dancers, costumed in black and white appearing as more Spanish gentlemen and ladies than perhaps Italian, all very elegant and a return to the precise steps of classical dance in a style influenced by 18th century court dancing.

Again the company is joined by year 13 students, in this case Cameron Allan, Tom Wood and Alfie-Lee Hall.

It brought to a close a programme which showed that the idea of creating a company, an extension of formal education into a prolonged period of work experience, the transition from earning good marks to earning a living is paying off.

They have all earned their chance, they all shone, but as with any group of dancers, a few had that extra sparkle . . . that indefinable quality, they dance the same steps as the rest but they make dancing look that bit simpler, easier, less effort, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Putting their names and faces together is not possible, but perhaps, at this stage, that is as it should be. This is the company of 2024, a company dancing as one and we can but wish them all well.

This years company include: Lucie Apicella-Howard, Scarlett Brass, Ellis Gilbert, Imogen Hart, Nicholas Hepher, Amy Hickey, Marlo Kempsey-Fagg, Mandy Kwan, Monica Langlois, Victoria Lavalle Mendoza, Yuna Nomura, Gabriele Pitzanti, Nicole Rutter, Hana Sato, Zara Scott, Ida Sorensen, Isabella Streckfuss, Pietro Vittoria, and Kiera Wilkinson - eight nationalities to illustrate the universal language and appeal of dance.

Roger Clarke


Index page Reviews A-Z Tweet