The difference between classical selection and gala is less than the breadth of a hair. Introducing this new company and their first performance, the BRB Director, Carlos Acosta, described the programme as a ‘Dance Salad’ and I shall never think of a gala as anything but a dance salad from now on! A great advantage of this evening over many galas was the live orchestral performance by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy. Ballet galas without live music are surely a dance salad without dressing!     

Lucy Waine and Oscar Kempsey-Fagg in End of Time
© Johan Persson

Of the five founding dancers in BRB2, three came from the Royal Ballet School. One, Maïlène Katoch, from its Paris Opéra equivalent, and a local Birmingham lad, Oscar Kempsey-Fagg, from Elmhurst Ballet School. They will be joined in a rolling two-year programme by another six dancers in 2024 and the company will then regenerate with six new intakes each year. Dancers will progress into the ranks of the main company or be recruited elsewhere. On the evidence of this first showing it seems likely that the founding five will have no problems in climbing that next rung. 

Mason King and Maïlène Katoch in Swan Lake Act 2 pas de deux
© Johan Persson

The inaugural BRB2 dance salad was embellished with other ingredients in the addition of seven members from the main company (drawn from a pool of twelve BRB dancers that will perform on this tour). There were, however, plenty of opportunities for the BRB2 cohort to bring their freshness and vitality to some well-worn pieces and any distinction between them and their more senior colleagues was also less than a hair’s breadth. 

Two BRB2 dancers opened the programme with the pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, a ballet that Acosta performed many times but surprisingly new to BRB. Frieda Kaden and Kempsey-Fagg gave a creditable performance of a duet that one would normally expect only principal dancers to perform (the first pair to dance it was Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lesley Collier). Later in the first act, two other BRB2 members, Katoch and Mason King performed an enchanting White Swan pas de deux from Act 2 of Swan Lake. Katoch’s port de bras, line and phrasing were a delight and King’s partnering was attentive and solid.  

Eric Pinto Cata as James in La Sylphide
© Johan Persson

In between these two BRB2-only duets came another in the pas de deux from La Sylphide, danced by Olivia Chang Clarke (a BRB apprentice) and her colleague, Eric Pinto Cata. Performing in costumes lent by Sarasota Ballet, they fizzed through the Bournonville style with an appropriate mix of grace and speed. Cata’s upright carriage and shaping was excellent and both dancers performed without betraying any effort. The first act closed with another BRB pair, Beatrice Parma (newly nominated for the Emerging Artist category in the National Dance Awards) and Enrique Bejarano Vidal giving an ebullient account of the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, the equivalent of hard-boiled egg in any dance salad.

Beatrice Parma in Diana and Actaeon pas de deux
© Johan Persson

As well as his account of the White Swan pas de deux, Acosta was responsible for two of the other works in the programme. Firstly, in his clever doubling up of another gala favourite with Dying Swans performed by Regan Hutsell in the more traditional role dancing a close approximation of Fokine’s original choreography, but shadowed by BRB2 member, Jack Easton as a hyper-flexible escort in the choreography of Michel Descombes. Clarke and Cata returned in the second act to smoulder through the pas de deux from Acosta’s Carmen followed by Lucy Waine’s delicate, ethereal performance of William Tuckett’s Nisi Dominus

Five of Acosta’s early performing years were spent at Houston Ballet and he included his former director, Ben Stevenson’s End of Time (also performed by Acosta Danza) in the programme. Kempsey-Fagg returned to partner Waine in this melancholy pas de deux intended to represent the last couple on earth. It was followed by a triptych of conjoined works: Gustavo Mollajoli’s A Buenos Aires and two more gala favourites from Ben Van Cauwenbergh, Je ne regrette rien to the famous Piaf song and the drunken skit, Les Bourgeois. In the former, Kaden and Easton did their best with Astor Piazzolla’s music, but always looked like ballet dancers attempting tango. Hutsell simmered through Piaf’s song and Vidal was appropriately virtuosic and funny in Les Bourgeois, which Acosta himself used to perform with great charisma.

BRB2 in Majisimo
© Johan Persson

The finale was Jorge Garcia’s Majisimo, a series of seven Spanish dances choreographed in a classical style and performed with panache and acceleration by the BRB2 “five” accompanying three of their senior colleagues.   

Acosta has a clever director’s eye about coordinating his dance salad through having the dancers arrive to the back of the stage, warming up at the barre before coming forward in turn to perform. I had a sense of déjá vu throughout the programme since it was virtually identical to the Classical Selection performed by Acosta and guests at the London Coliseum in 2015. The best accolade that these young dancers deserve is that this updated salad was every bit as enjoyable.