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Ripon Dance Academy Dance! Dance! Dance! Ripon Grammar School, 2 April 2017, 18:30
Today's New York Times features a charming 360 degree video of children in New York auditioning for the School of American Ballet. Almost every one of those children will have been taught pliés and tendus at a local dance school. We saw Sergei Polunin's first teacher in Dancer on 3 March 2017. Local dance schools are very important and deserve to be supported by those who value dance. That is one of the reasons why I drove half way across Yorkshire to see the annual show of the Ripon Dance Academy in the assembly hall of Ripon Grammar School last Sunday.
The performance took place in the assembly hall of Ripon Grammar School whose old boys include Richard Hammond and Bruce Oldfield. Not perhaps the best venue because it was pretty full by the time I arrived a good 20 minutes before the curtain rose and as all the seats were on the same level it was impossible to see the dancers' feet. I took an aisle seat about 2 two-thirds of the way back from the stage which enabled me to see the dancers on the periphery of the stage who tended to be the younger or least experienced ones but not those taking the leading roles who took centre stage.
The show was organized in three parts called "acts" and between each act there was an interval that allowed the audience to stretch to stretch one's legs. The show was compered by a gentleman whose name I have been unable to find in the programme. He had mentioned something about refreshments in the intervals which had apparently earned him the displeasure of his wife for none were on offer. I don't think anyone minded for it was a fine evening and it was relief enough to stand and walk around the auditorium, foyer and forecourt.
Act 1 started with a modern jazz routine called One Short Day. It was followed by "What is this feeling?" from Wicked. The singers whom I believe to have been Amelia Noakes and Sofia Robinson had pleasant voices and good stage presence. Children in the preparatory and primary ballet classes danced the Ugly Duckling to Danny Kaye's vocals and Cinderella though not to Prokofiev. In this they were led by an adult whom I guess to have been one of their instructors. The choreography seemed to incorporate some of the exercises that they would have learned in class which they seemed to remember well. Next was a tap routine by the youngsters, Everything Old is New Again.
My favourite piece in the first act was Five Guys Named Moe who turned out to be four girls, Amelia Dodds, Matilda O'Brien, Shannon O'Brien and Gaby Simmonds and one guy, Elliot Hutchinson. All danced well but I was particularly impressed by Eliot who seemed to show real promise though he has got to learn to smile a bit. Indeed, all the dancers have got to smile. Only my colleague, Amelia Sierevogel, seemed to be enjoying herself but she is an undergraduate whereas most of the others were teenagers or young children.
The preparatory and primary tap dancers performed the Mickey Mouse March delightfully in their Minnie Mouse costumes. They earned some of the loudest applause of the evening. The show group rounded off the first act with extracts from Mary Poppins.
The whole of the second act was given over to extracts from Coppelia though a version that did not seem to have a Franz or Swanhilda. Eliot, however, danced Dr Coppelius, a role which required him to do so lifting as well as some awkward assemblés and chaînés. Four scenes were danced - the flower scene, the presentation of the doll, the girls' trespass in Coppelius's workshop while he is in the pub and a finale. Students of all levels performed in this act and they were all good.
Act three started with another musical, Join the Circus, by the Show Group. Elliot plus the girls in the grade 4, 5 and intermediate classes danced an Egyptian Ballet. I had hoped we might get a rare performance of The Pharaoh's Daughter by Petipa but it turned out to be from Nixon's Cleopatra. Or at least it was Schönberg's music. I am not sure about the choreography. The boys (who were in the minority in this cast) danced a vigorous Mission Impossible. More freestyle from the seniors in Lose My Breath. Then Fame from the grade 4 tap dancers, Trolls by the preparatory, primary and grade 1 modern students in delightful costumes with some impressively spiky headgear, Music by the grades 2, 3 and 4 modern jazz students and a reverence by the entire cast.
The cast was rewarded by enthusiastic applause. The principal, Carole Cundale, gave a short speech thanking all who had participated in the show including some of her classmates from some of her own childhood classes who had trekked up from London. Everyone got a goody bag of some kind. The compere and technicians were shiny's blue and the women's were multicoloured.
I noticed in the programme that Amelia Sierevogel had assisted Cundale with the costume design. They deserve special credit for the costumes were splendid. Delightful dirndls and flowing skirts for Coppelia which must have been such fun to wear and the lovely trolls and Minnie Mouse outfits for the younger children. Everything in the production worked well. All who took part whether cast, front of house or back stage did a great job and deserve congratulations.
As she is about to go to Australia for her placement as part of her degree course I waited for Amelia to appear. I commended her on her performance and also on the costumes. She introduced me to her teacher, Laura Murphy, who told me that the Academy was not yet 4 years old but had already placed students in vocational schools.
It seems well supported by the community. Ripon is not a big place yet the fair size auditorium was pretty full, I am not sure that I saw any stars of the future but we certainly saw some very promising children and young people who had obviously worked hard and had been trained well. I hope those kids and their instructors will be encouraged in their endeavours by this review. Above all I hope they learn to smile.