Best feet forward

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Following the Royal Ballet's rustication to Hammersmith, London's dance elite was pining for a bit of glamour. Luckily, says Louise Levene, Sunday's Royal "Stars of the Night" Gala made sure that they got it.

What a jolly crowd they were. London's ballet-goers, spared the long trek to Hammersmith, made the brief trip to Haymarket to enjoy a gala evening of bite-sized treats by British dance companies ranging from the Royal Ballet to the Jiving Lindy Hoppers. The black-tied gathering was there to celebrate the amalgamation of the Royal Academy of Dancing and the Benesh Institute, which trains choreologists in the notation of dance movement.

Galas can be very hit-and-miss affairs. The televised binge that marked the closure of the Royal Opera House was a prime example of fine ingredients which failed to rise to the occasion. Sunday's bash was conceived with a greater sense of history and more sentiment. Either the Royal Ballet had learnt its lesson or the employment of ex-Royal Ballet star Wayne Sleep as director made the difference between success and "so what?".

First on were a handful of nervous tots from the Royal Academy: indulgent laughter all round and Sleep had the audience eating out of his hand. Then came a heartbreakingly short solo from Ashton's Birthday Offering danced by Miyako Yoshida, whose quicksilver technique is admirably suited to this old Fonteyn role. Yoshida also starred in Balanchine's Tarantella with Irek Mukhamedov - the only man dancing in Britain who doesn't look daft banging a tambourine. Dashing and saucy in white shirt and black breeches, he oozed star quality. This would have been an ideal end to the first half; instead, they chose to stage Ronald Hynd's frankly peculiar Rose Adagio for Four Auroras. This famous extract from The Sleeping Beauty, with its fiendish promenades and balances, is considered the test of a true ballerina. Dividing it between four dancers lessens its impact and invites unwelcome and unhelpful comparisons. Darcey Bussell, BRB's Catherine Batcheller, Dutch National Ballet's Anna Seidl and Paris Opera Ballet's newest etoile Agnes Letestu all looked ravishing in painstaking replicas of the 1946 Oliver Messel tutus but none was shown to advantage. It was like sharing an aria between four sopranos.

Among the solos was Matthew Hart's Bowed Out, a rhythmic gymnastics display with violin, cello and viola in which Hart, a bow clutched between his toes, rolled around with the instruments in a sequence of reckless dances before finally being run through by the cello's spike. Otherwise it was what Anthony Dowell craftily described as "a celebration of the art of the pas de deux" - when is a ballet gala anything else? Of the modern works, the most successful was an extract from Christopher Bruce's Bob Dylan ballet Moonshine danced by Didy Veldman and Simon Cooper. Cooper's more famous brother Adam and his partner Sarah Wildor featured twice, first in a revival of Kenneth MacMillan's Waterfalls, a sequence of anguished hugs and lifts created to the droopy Paul McCartney number, then in a pas de deux from Matthew Bourne's Cinderella.

By way of comic relief Dawn French starred with Darcey Bussell in a pastiche of Fokine's Reflections in which the mismatched pair danced with the frame of a mirror between them. The audience found the sight of French, sporting a capacious black bra beneath her jumbo tutu, knicker-wettingly amusing. Nice for them. This was followed by a sweetly sentimental tribute to the Princess of Wales danced by Wayne Sleep in a poignant reprise of their famous duet. At 49, Sleep can still spin like a top but the applause was not merely for his enduring virtuosity but in praise of the splendid show that he, Anya Sainsbury and Andrew Ward had so deftly assembled.

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