It was a year of peaks and troughs in 2018, of rising stars and returning veterans, old dogs and new tricks. Classical ballet was well represented throughout the year by both Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, whose female dancers are in particularly good form.
Marianela Nunez kicked off the year with stunning performances in Giselle and Swan Lake and ended it with a blissful La Bayadere for the Royal Ballet. Over at ENB, Alina Cojocaru lit up the stage in Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty and the mixed bill Voices of America.
While the big beasts of UK ballet had a good year they also caught some flak. ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo had to defend her relationship with new dancer Isaac Hernandez, saying there had never been a conflict of interest, and the company rejected claims by anonymous insiders calling it a hostile work environment, with claims of former dancers feeling pressured to work while injured. Meanwhile, the Royal Ballet got caught up in the rumblings over the Royal Opera House’s new ticketing policy that seems designed to encourage the idea that ballet is elitist and riddled with snobbery.
Birmingham Royal Ballet had a good year as artistic director David Bintley prepares to hand over the reins to his successor in 2019 with a stunning Romeo and Juliet and a well-programmed double bill Polarity and Proximity.
Of the visiting companies, Dresden’s Semperoper Oper Ballett displayed superb dancing in a rare triple bill of William Forsythe works while Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan was at the top of its game with Formosa, a fitting swansong for outgoing artistic director Lin Hwai-min. And the male ballet dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo brought mischief and mercurial dancing to its two touring programmes.
Revivals of Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre for Northern Ballet and Will Tuckett’s Elizabeth at the Royal Ballet were welcome and Liam Scarlett’s contributions to Petipa’s classic Swan Lake proved subtly enhancing.
Out on the edge, contemporary dance was in fine fettle. Akram Khan signed off his solo performing career with the blazing and poignant Xenos about colonial soldiers in the First World War. Ben Duke’s company Lost Dog brought a fresh take to an old tale with Juliet and Romeo and Rhiannon Faith’s all-female Smack That was an engaging and provocative piece about abused women and the need for safe places. Cathy Marston’s The Suit was made-to-measure for Ballet Black.
Together with Historic Royal Palaces and the London International Festival of Theatre, Hofesh Shechter took on a community project with kids in East London Dance that resulted in the unparalleled dance, music and theatre collaboration East Wall played out in the Tower of London moat.
Among those we lost were Gillian Lynne, the ageless choreographer of Cats and many other shows that dragged the classical idiom into the West End musical; Lindsay Kemp, the mime, choreographer and hugely influential performance artist, and Janis Claxton, the Australian-born choreographer who founded her highly regarded, self-titled company in Edinburgh.
BEST OF THE YEAR
• Formosa (Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan)
• All Forsythe (Semperoper Ballett)
• The Suit (Ballet Black)
• East Wall – Storm the Tower (Hofesh Shechter/East London Dance)
WORST OF THE YEAR
Russian Ballet Icons Gala