There was once a Eurovision dance contest – a sort of Strictly hybrid, as I recall – but it lasted only a couple of years. If Eurovision ever returned to the genre in a more serious way (strictly no celebs) then Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, might have provided a prototype in this international event for emerging choreographers, albeit one that is refreshingly devoid of voting and jingoism. International Draft Works, an evening which fields dancers from no fewer than eight ballet companies, is the first global edition of the Royal Ballet's own long-running series, Draft Works.

<i>Sand</i> © ROH | Bill Cooper
Sand
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Participants included the National Ballet of Canada and American Ballet Theatre, but, hey, doesn’t the Eurovision Song Contest include Australia? Also, it's rare for contestants to have two bites of the cherry, as Dutch National Ballet’s Milena Sidorova did with her gorgeous duet in the first half (Sand with Khayla Fitzpatrick and Giovanni Princic dancing to catchy music by Groove Armada) and a sparkling, ebullient solo, A.I., for Aya Okumura that closed the show. But, the reason why my Eurovision allusion doesn’t sit well with this event is simply because every “entry” was good. No nul points here, not even for Norway.

If this is a sample of emerging choreographic talent around the world then we are in for a fascinating future. What appealed most about this selection box of terpsichorean morsels was the confidence with which each choreographer has found their voice. Taken collectively, the nine choreographers produced a diverse range of work in terms of style, structure and substance.

The programme opened with Brendan Saye’s Grey Verses, a capsule ballet with two duets sandwiched around a solo for Nayoa Ebe. The opening sequence was a two-into-one duet for Ebe with Chelsy Meiss, of intricate partnering, softly coordinated with the romantic music of Debussy’s Beau Soir, a lyrical poem to the charm of a summer evening. The concluding duet (Elena Lobsanova with Donald Thom), danced to Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Major, was subtly contemplative, as if masking some inner conflict. Each piece of the triptych was elegantly structured, although the use of different music made for a lack of unity across the parts.

An original voice shouted throughout Drew Jacoby’s Jack, a work for four male dancers that mixed classicism with movement inspired by today’s street culture, matched by a diverse and futuristic urban soundscape. It was a piece with strong visual appeal, enhanced by striking lighting designs from Natasha Chivers (who lit all ten works).

Kit Holder, from Birmingham Royal Ballet, has been creating dance for over a decade, and his Stems – inspired by the Liberty suite by Oliver Davis – exhibited that maturity in its neoclassical language, danced by a strong quartet of Delia Matthews, Mizi Mizutani, Brandon Lawrence and Max Maslen.

<i>Zoha</i> © ROH | Bill Cooper
Zoha
© ROH | Bill Cooper

The two homegrown works from The Royal Ballet were a contrasting pair. Hannah Grennell’s Zohar, choreographed to Rachel Groen’s eponymous music, was made on four dancers, with Kristen McNally (herself a notable contributor to Draft Works over many years) leading the excellent line-up of Leo Dixon, Teo Dubreuil and Benjamin Ella. Grennell’s rapt and introspective choreography seemed to evoke the intimacy of a religious rite. Joshua Junker’s Canto de Ossanha also took its name from its music (a solo acoustic guitar version of the 1960s Portuguese song by Baden Powell) but Junker’s expressive choreography (for six dancers)was playful, reflecting Mediterranean sun.

Continuing my Eurovision theme, it was a novel idea for the UK to have a third of the participants. But, then maybe O’Hare is on to something here: narrow the field in the Eurovision Song Contest, treble the British entries and host the event and perhaps, one day, we might win!

A former Royal Ballet dancer, Gemma Bond, represented the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company with the largest cohort – a dozen dancers – in a slick, patterned piece, appropriately entitled Interchange, which seemed very much to fit the American neoclassical choreographic lineage, from Balanchine and Robbins through to early Wheeldon and Twyla Tharp. There was a certain mystical aura to Seelen-Spiel (Soul Game) by Hamburg Ballet’s Aleix Martinez; another quartet – clearly the favoured medium of the evening – although this one opened enigmatically, with a grieving, hypnotic female solo.

<i>for:jake</i> © ROH | Bill Cooper
for:jake
© ROH | Bill Cooper

And, so, to that Norwegian entry (from the National Ballet in Oslo) and something different again in for:jake, a self-performed duet by Samantha Lynch and Douwe Dekkers; creating a sentimental, highly contemporary and original landscape danced to the ambient sounds of Luchs, sampled around recorded conversations between a father and infant daughter about a birthday present, and accented with snippets of rock n’ roll. If there were to have been a prize on offer then this from the Norwegian Ballet, alongside Jacoby’s piece from the Royal Ballet Flanders and Sidorova’s Sand, for Dutch National Ballet, would have been my top contenders from an excellent field.


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