Ann Maguire Gala, Sadler's Wells, review: Rarely do gala occasions have such warmth

The murdered Leeds' teacher's life was celebrated to the full in London

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The Independent Culture

Gala occasions don’t often have such warmth. Across a programme of new works, highlights and fine musical choices, the first gala for the Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund was fluently staged and movingly danced.

Ann Maguire, the Leeds teacher murdered in her classroom in 2014, is being remembered through a fund that supports young people in the arts. Maguire herself loved music, dance and drama. Her daughter, Emma Maguire, is a soloist with The Royal Ballet, and her colleagues were out in force for the fundraising gala, hosted by Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope.

The evening set high, lyrical standards with the first number, Frederick Ashton’s demanding Monotones II. Christina Arestis, Nehemiah Kish and Ryoichi Hirano gained authority in the serene poses and balances. Satie’s music, usually orchestrated, was here played by solo pianist Kate Shipway. This was a gala with intimate, well-deployed musical forces: lots of live music, sometimes giving a fresh angle on familiar dances.

Jonathan Watkins’ new Musance is a friendly quintet to music by the Hackney Colliery Band, who appeared onstage in a tangle of brass instruments. The dancers skip and dip, bouncing from solos into duets and group numbers. The performances are jazzy and affectionate, with speedy dancing and bright rhythms.

Alastair Marriott created two new works. Lieder, a duet for Melissa Hamilton and Gary Avis, gets bogged down in over-intricate partnering, despite poised dancing and the warm singing of baritone Samuel Dale Johnson. Borrowed Light, an introspective solo for Marcelino Sambé, was more effective. Sambé has a velvety flow of movement, leaping and turning like a man following a train of thought. There’s a sense of loss as he stops to look around him, gazing at the slanting patterns of light.

Johan Kobborg’s Les Lutins is a lively trio, with sparky, competitive dancing from James Hay, Marcelino Sambé and Emma Maguire. They tease each other, and onstage violinist Vasko Vassilev, with speedy footwork and perky jokes.

Vassilev was back on stage for Steven McRae’s new Czardas, an explosion of ballet jumps and spins, fierce tap footwork and a Hungarian twist. McRae roars into whirling turns, feet rattling out rhythms, or slows for slinky, folk-edged moves before driving on again. It’s a bravura number, played and danced with glee.

This was mostly a Royal Ballet affair, but former colleagues Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg returned in Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land pas de deux. They’re both powerfully dramatic dancers, bringing a sense of longing and separation to Scarlett’s gestures.

With its inky designs and a title that evokes the afterlife, there’s always been a touch of melancholy to Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows. Emma Maguire and Bennet Gartside danced it with devotion, care lavished on each unfurling phrase, each glowing stretch and curling line.

Though the gala and the fund celebrate Ann Maguire’s life, Emma Maguire acknowledged loss and pain in her touching final speech. But she gave her colleagues the last word, as the dancers explained the transforming effect of arts education and funding in their own lives.