The Royal Ballet School's annual knees-up at Covent Garden was upgraded from a matinee performance to a full evening binge this year. Why were they accorded this honour? To celebrate the school's Golden Jubilee and to pay tribute to Dame Ninette de Valois who turned 99 last month. The usual display of national dances and short works was lent prime-time status by various ex-students, including Birmingham Royal Ballet's Monica Zamora and the Royal Ballet's Darcey Bussell, who provided a grand finale with her assured account of the balances of the Rose Adagio.
However, the real star of the evening performed a more arduous physical feat and achieved a louder ovation by merely rising to her feet to acknowledge the affectionate applause. Ninette de Valois basked in the spotlight as she smiled and nodded with regal aplomb from her place in the stalls circle. Having learned her theatrecraft from Diaghilev, Yeats and Baylis and her ballet from Cecchetti, Legat and Espinosa, she was ideally placed to start Britain's fledgling ballet. Her inexhaustible energy and genius for creative administration enabled her little Academy of Choreographic Art to flower into a large school, and her small troupe of dancers to evolve into a major company with an enviable repertoire.
The centrepiece of last week's jubilee performance was a work by David Bintley composed "For Madam, with love and admiration". Set to Albert Roussel's 1913 Le Festin de L'Arraignee, Bintley's Spider's Banquet is a witty piece about a hungry spider and its attempt to ensnare the insect life around it. Sharply and wittily dressed by Ruari Murchison, the work was equally well tailored to student dancers of all ages and flattered them admirably.
Those who missed the gala evening (and the unedifying prospect of poor old Princess Margaret wheeled onto the stage for Lord Sterling's inaudible speech) can catch the students at London's Holland Park Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday next week.