Tokyo attracts many international ballet stars, who come to perform galas over the summer. A Night of Royal Elegance is a unique one. Organised by Dance Tours Productions, an educational organisation led by former Royal Ballet dancer Justin Meissner, this gala aims to educate young students about the artistry of ballet – 6 young dancers handpicked from workshops performed in the gala– and showcases the best of the British repertoire.

A Night of Royal Elegance 2014 © Johan persson - perssonphotography.com
A Night of Royal Elegance 2014
© Johan persson - perssonphotography.com
Great works by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, classics and legacies of British ballet's past, and works by contemporary choreographers Liam Scarlett, Ashley Page, Will Tuckett, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alastair Mariott were performed by dancers from both the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. A new work by Kristen McNally also premiered.

Requiem, Concerto and Elite Syncopations, masterpieces by MacMillan, were all performed with much drama. Particularly, Yuhui Choe, in Requiem, showed much spirituality, in her delicate suspensions, aided by Nehemiah Kish's steady partnering. Nao Sakuma and Bennet Gartside were wonderfully musical in the barre lesson inspired beautiful pas de deux from Concerto, set to Shostakovich’s piano concerto.

Great interpreters of Ashton repertoire were here too. In The Dream, Laura Morera danced the difficult upper body choreography fluently, and Chi Cao had so much dignity as Oberon, with one lift of the arm he showed who was king. Ricardo Cervera was incredibly swift and precise, with great dynamic in the Troyte solo from Enigma Variations. And Shu Igarashi, a very young boy student, performed the Johnny Townmouse solo from Tales of Beatrix Potter with great stage presence. He adopted Ashton's style quickly during his coaching by the dancers – of this gala. 

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in <i>Sleeping Beauty</i> © Johan Persson
Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in Sleeping Beauty
© Johan Persson
While Sleeping Beauty's Act III pas de deux is a popular gala piece , the symbiosis and warmth of Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae is rarely seen in galas. Their eye-contact in the fish dives of the adagio were touching, and McRae’s partnering skills flawless. Lamb’s upper body movements were delicate and fluid, just like her holding of her wedding veil was. McRae’s virtuosity is evident in his dynamic leaps, shooting like a cannon from the ground and break-neck speed chaines, his technique infused with musicality and grace. Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma, in Diana and Actaeon displayed their legendary partnership and the beauty and thrills of classical ballet virtuosity. Sakuma’s fouettes, supported magnificently by Cao were like a whirlwind, and the latter's leaps of bravura clean, and masculine.

But the most exciting part of the gala was Kristen McNally's new choreography for Yuhui Choe : Rotaryrotatory set to music by Bjork. Choe morphed into a ballerina in a box character, with mechanic-like very high extensions and flexible upper body movements. Choe was accompanied by four young female student dancers, and the whole made for a strange but lovely piece, with unique ideas.

Trespass, from Metamorphosis Titian 2012,  created for Monica Mason's (Royal Ballet’s former director) farewell performance was danced here by Lamb and McRae. Choreographed by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon, Trespass features acrobatic lifts which the pair appoach serenely, like live sculpture taking poses beyond the usual scope of imagination. Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows was an intense and lyrical piece performed profoundly and sensually by Laura Morera and Bennet Gartside.

Ricardo Cervera in <i>Enigma Variations</i> © Bill Cooper / ROH 2011
Ricardo Cervera in Enigma Variations
© Bill Cooper / ROH 2011

Ashley Page’s Room of Cooks was enchanting, with its dark and haunting absurd dramatic rendition of a wife, husband and lover – hers. Here, Morera showed great acting ablity, embodying a real woman caught between Kish and Ricardo Cervera. And in Quizas (W.Tuckett) Morera and Cervera were a steamy, exotic and sexy Latin couple bouncing on stage to the Nat King Cole songs from the soundtrack of Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

To wrap up this versatile and colourful evening, Steven McRae created a new tap solo for himself, Czardas. Inspired by his idol Fred Astaire and ice skating, McRae fused his crystalline technique, that of tap dancing, and stylish twists in his playful approach. His turns were like a tornado, yet tapping perfectly with the music, and drove the audience wild. He is certainly the Fred Astaire of the 21st century.

In a relatively small venue, on the dancers own initiative, this gala had a unique intimate feel. It proved inspiring for the Japanese public that usually prefers classics. The gala was partcularly appealing  to the many young students present, with its diverse and unique program.