The Royal Ballet School, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet School's annual matinée fills Covent Garden with proud parents, little sisters in party frocks, teachers and critics. The stage is full of eager students, the audience both adoring and beady-eyed.

The Royal Ballet School's annual matinée fills Covent Garden with proud parents, little sisters in party frocks, teachers and critics. The stage is full of eager students, the audience both adoring and beady-eyed.

The programme comprises established ballets and pieces made for these students. This year's set piece was Les Patineurs, Frederick Ashton's lovely skating ballet. It's a good test for the students, demanding clear performance and a sense of Royal Ballet style.

The dancers glide through the frosty setting in a slip-sliding chassé walk, with virtuoso steps for confident skaters and for sudden wobbles. When the two girls in blue (Kristen McGarrity and Pattra Sarikaputra) start to teeter, they do it with sparkling bourrées.

It's easy to look warmly on the youth and enthusiasm of these students. At the same time, the Royal Ballet School is the most prestigious dance school in Britain. It claims to set the standard for British dance training, and it should be sternly assessed. At this matinée, there were just too many floppy wrists and buttery feet.

The Royal Ballet School dancers have elements of virtuoso technique, fast turns or high extensions, but they don't pull them into focus. Then there's the repertoire. I can't think why Gailene Stock, the school's director, chose to import The Eyes that Gently Touch. Kirk Petersen's ballet is a series of dim and wispy duets, with girls draped over the boys. Even so, Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt showed a lovely sense of line and phrasing. She's been snapped up by San Francisco Ballet, joining the company not at corps level but as a soloist.

Elements, made for the young students of the Lower School, is more worrying. Ann Jenner's piece is a kind of Balanchine Lite. It's a terrible error of judgement. Jenner doesn't even challenge her students: she keeps leaving the youngest dancers to flap their hands. The older girls have more to do. Antoinette Brooks-Daw snaps brightly into attitudes as the first movement ballerina. In the slow movement, Jade Clayton shows a flowing line.

Robert Hill's piece which was devised for the graduate students earlier this year uses Lowell Lieberman's Second Piano Concerto as a score. Hill sets the dancers moving fast. Mark Biocca tears through his jumps, and Pipithsuksunt gives another elegant performance.

I was happiest with Monochromatic, by the Upper School student Liam Scarlett. It was a tutu ballet to Prokofiev, with an assured sense of the big Covent Garden stage. Scarlett moves his dancers well, cutting between corps and soloist work.

The final piece brings on all the students. Each year does a few steps before the whole school sweeps on to the stage. It ends the show energetically but it doesn't remove doubts.

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