On 25 April 2015, Nepal was devastated by the strongest earthquake to hit the country in 100 years. Villages were flattened and much of the historical city of Kathmandu crumbled to the ground. Alison Marston, born and raised in Nepal, launched the Nepal Earthquake Recovery Appeal (NERA), which gives grants to NGOs in local Nepalese communities to help the people of this country rebuild their lives. As part of that fundraising campaign, the New English Ballet Theatre have joined forces with some of the Royal Ballet’s best performers to raise money by Dancing for Nepal.
This programme of work brings together showcase pieces of contemporary ballet in a variety of different styles and with different musical inspirations. In two hours the audience is exposed to the Russian romanticism of Mussorgsky, the Brazilian folk music of Heitor Villa-Lobos before rushing around the world to some traditional aboriginal compositions with the guttural tones of the didgeridoo. Each and every piece is intrinsically linked with the choreography and the movement of the dancers, with each step striving to reflect and imitate the emotion within the music itself. This is accomplished no better than in the Lieder, where the audience is treated to a spellbinding performance by the Royal Ballet’s Olivia Cowley and Gary Avis. As veterans of the company, the duo work together with an effortless elegance, almost as if they are extensions of the same dancer. The passionate expressions and movements of Cowley in particular were enough to bring even the stoniest of reviewer to tears.
Not to be outdone by the guest performers, the New English Ballet Theatre give some wonderful performances as well. Overall the synchronicity in their group numbers is not as tight as it should be, the movements less precise but no less passionate. Mad Women in particular is a clever contrast to the previous performance – choreographer Kristen McNally designs a modern, feminist piece with the women in complete control. The group of female dancers led by Alessia Lugoboni are the epitome of J.Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ World War Two propaganda that has become a symbolic poster of feminism in today’s society. Dancing to a strong rhythmic beat, the ballerinas exude a cheeky confidence that brings the male dancers literally to their knees.
The final and longest performance of the evening is also worthy of note. Orbital Motion, set to Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No.1, is clearly designed with the movement of the planets around the sun in mind – large circular movements from the peripheral couples all revolve around the central pairing of Paul Oliver and Georgina Rose Connolly. The piece was obviously very physically demanding and at times it feels too much for these two; the middle of the piece the movement is slow and laboured, almost as if Oliver especially doesn’t have the strength to carry on. But in the latter half the music swells, gathering pace and urgency and the dancers picked up their tempo, their intensity and their passion – another great example of how choreographer Valentino Zucchetti has the musical composition clearly in mind throughout his design.
For such a worthy cause you can’t help but hope that the performances continue to sell out and raise much needed funds to help Nepal rebuild after such a tragedy. You can also see the subtle differences in the two ballet companies – all professional and honed in their craft, but the more experienced dancers showcasing those extra touches that raise an applaudable piece to an extraordinary one.
Dancing for Nepal is playing at the St James Theatre until 22 August. For more information and tickets, see the St James Theatre website. Image by St James Theatre.