Thursday, March 19, 2015


Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre

A perfect pairing in this BOGOF evening of ballet. United by parasols, public costume changes, wit and good humour, the dance work Sullivan never wrote and a back-stage story Saint-Saens could never have dreamt of.
Christopher Marney's Carnival of the Animals has no cute creatures – indeed one of the best jokes is that the one four-legged friend in the story remains a disembodied bark. It's the story of a stage-struck ASM, dancing with mop and bucket [like Morecambe and Wise for The Fleet's In], whose dream of being a dancer is shared by his girl, daughter of the snobby patron of the ballet. They have a lovely Swan pas-de-deux in the park, take their first tentative steps to The Elephant, and triumph together in the Blue Danube.
Engaging performances from Stephen Quildan [a wonderful solo expressing his ambition and his joy in dancing] and Jasmine Wallis, blossoming as a Prima Ballerina, with Marion Pettet as the imperious mother, who has a nice Donkey moment with her maids.
Some superb set pieces – the Parisian park [Fossils], the Birds number in brown, and the ingenious switch to backstage view [no Black Swan bitchery here, thank goodness]. And the carnival finale, full of zest and energy, where even the dog has his day and his due in the curtain call.
Before the interval, Annette Potter's colourful Pineapple Poll, gorgeously costumed, with lovesick maidens en travesti as jolly jack tars. Imaginative ensemble work from a huge corps de ballet, including children, old salts, ship mates and gossips.
Scarlett Mann, in her first principal role with the company, makes a splendidly assured Poll, full of mischief and dancing with style and charm. Her potboy is a genial Stephen Quildan, providing energetic support as well as some poignant moments before he finally gets his girl. Captain Belaye is Andrew Potter, nimble yet dignified, whose complicated love life involves Megan McLatchie's excellent Blanche, not to mention her fussy, overbearing mother, the redoubtable Mrs Dimple [Marion Pettet].
A joyous production, full of dramatic detail and fancy footwork, culminating in a crescendo Di Ballo whirl before the final patriotic tableau.

production photograph: Amelia Potter

and for Sardines

Christopher Marney, of Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, a Patron and good friend of Chelmsford Ballet Company, has created a fresh, accessible Carnival of the Animals, the second half of their hugely enjoyable double bill at the Civic Theatre.
It's been compared to Jerome Robbins' popular “The Concert”, but it's also a strikingly original piece, taking a wryly affectionate look at the world of British ballet before the war. No animal costumes, and no carnival either, though like Saint-Saens' music, ingeniously used, together with chunks of Poulenc and Strauss, it abounds with clever pastiche and parody.
The two young dancers at its heart are a stage-hand and a society girl who end up duetting in triumph to the Blue Danube. Stephen Quildan is the stage-struck lad; we first meet him as he mops the stage, dreaming of stardom as he dances with his right foot stuck firmly in a bucket. His dancing is engagingly expressive – in his more dignified second solo, we see in his every movement the joy he finds in the dance, and his burning ambition to appear on the boards he's been mopping. And in the first pas-de-deux, set to Saint-Saens' Swan, ending with a tender parting glance, witnessed by inquisitive bushes and trees in the park, he is superbly partnered by Jasmine Wallis, now at the Central School of Ballet in London.
Many incidents, often comic, before the lively finale. There's a magical moment when the curtain falls on The Birds and we're suddenly back stage with the tired but happy dancers. Excellent work from a small ensemble here; and a delicious character role from Marion Pettet, now Chairman of the CBC, as the girl's formidable mother – a brilliant moment trying on scarves with her three maids, to the strains of Saint-Saens' braying donkeys. She has a little lap-dog, too, a well-sustained conceit, invisible to the audience, reduced to yaps and yelps on the imaginative sound-effects track, which begins back-stage with water dripping into that bucket …
A colourful curtain-raiser in Pineapple Poll, which gives every member of the company, from the youngest little girl to the most ancient mariner, a chance to shine. Annette Potter's joyful choreography, after John Cranko, leads us through the improbable tale of Poll, who dresses as a simple sailor to pursue the object of her affections on board HMS Hot Cross Bun. She is danced, with an assured, infectious charm, by 14-year-old Scarlett Mann in her first leading role with the company. Stephen Quildan is her faithful Jasper, and Andrew Potter the imposingly dapper Captain Belaye. Constant fun as Belaye's intended, Blanche [Megan McLatchie] and her fusspot mother [Marion Pettet] get caught up in the preposterous plot, and the lovesick maidens learn to walk like matelots. A trio of Mates, a gaggle of gossips, a motley crew of sea dogs all add to the fast and furious fun.

Chelmsford is fortunate to have a non-professional ballet company at all, and doubly so to have one as ambitious and aspirational as this. This entertaining, enterprising double bill made a wonderful showcase for them; we look forward to seeing how they will top it in 2016.

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