Ballet Under The Stars, Covent Garden Dance Company, Hatch House

TEN years ago, Matt Brady put up a  marquee in a beautiful walled garden at Hatch House near Tisbury and invited audiences to come and see ballet in the open air. A three-course dinner was served as entr’actes to the main event.

It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a brave thing to do. You might think it was reckless! Chances are that Matt’s bank manager frowned a bit. But the audiences came and they loved the whole experience and they came back the next year and the next …

The aim, from that first Ballet Under The Stars, was to bring international dancers to this peaceful and beautiful corner of Wiltshire. It was also to support a charitable foundation set up by Matt, the son of novelist Charlotte Bingham and actor and writer Terence Brady, in memory of the great dance critic Richard Buckle. The Dicky Buckle Fund makes grants to young choreographers, often the dancers who come to Hatch, to create new work. And so the Hatch ballet audiences have seen not only some of the great names in ballet dancing works by leading choreographers past and present, on the Harlequin stage in the 17th century Dutch walled garden. They have also seen several of those dancers develop into exciting choreographers..

This year, as Covent Garden Dance Company celebrates its tenth anniversary as the “Glyndebourne of ballet” at Hatch, the audiences for three sold out performances saw special guests and favourite dancers, including the matchless Mara Galeazzi, in works that ranged from staples of the classical ballet to thrilling new pieces.

The pairing of Galeazzi with the splendid Italian dancer Gabriele Corrado was a revelation, never more so than in Wayne McGregor’s powerful and emotional Qualia, danced to the insistent and demanding music of the electronic sound artist Scanner. It was a joy to see a great classical dancer responding to such a driving score. And it was similarly a delight to see this brilliant pairing showing all their emotional and technical skill in the famous Balcony scene from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, with the MacMillan choreography.

Ksenia Ovsyanick, with her regular partner Zdenek Konvalina, opened the evening’s dance programme with Summertime, in a soupy arrangement by Percy Faith – much too smooth for my taste. I want that sexually charged, South Carolina steamy heat! Their second piece, Ovsyanick’s The Lightness of Being,  danced to music by Philip Glass, was far more appealing, sophisticated and engaging.

They saved the best to last – their third piece saw Konvalina in wig and 18th century costume wielding a bow and “playing” Ovsyanick as if she was an exceptionally acrobatic cello. It was danced to the best known of the Bach Cello Suites, No 1 in G Major.

Another favourite Hatch pairing, Vitali Safronkine and Iker Murillo, dancing as a pair and in a trio with Maria Munoz Sabater, demonstrated the maturing of Safronkine’s choreography in Summa, La Silhouette and Reminiscence.

Some of the biggest cheers of the evening went to Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae who performed his own Something Different, danced initially to the rhythm of his tapping feet and then to music by Benny Goodman – a dazzling demonstration of the seductive excitement of great tap dancing!

The two biggest international names this year were Xander Parish, the only British dancer in Russia’s famous Mariinsky Ballet, and the elegant Lauren Cuthbertson, a principal of the Royal Ballet.

Cuthbertson, with Nicol Edmonds, showed why her technically exquisite dancing is so admired in Concerto, choreographed by MacMillan to music by Shostakovich. The perfection of her classical style was even more evident in the White Adagio from Swan Lake. Perhaps only something so subtle and poignant could have followed the explosive charisma of McRae’s tap dancing routine!

Parish, with his fellow Mariinsky dancer Maria Khoreva delighted lovers of the mainstream repertoire with the Pas de Deux from La Bayadere and the more contemporary Close Up, danced to a Schubert piano impromptu.

The handsome and charismatic British dancer concluded the evening with 101, a witty and demanding showcase in which the dancer performs the 101 dance positions, first in sequence and then in an accelerating and random order. It was a terrific finale to a memorable evening.

Pictured: Mara Galeazzi and Gabriele Corrado rehearsing the Balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet; Maria Munoz Sabater and Vitali Safronkine rehearsing La Silhouette; photographs by Alice Pennefather.

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