I was excited to see Joseph Toonga’s ‘See Us’ main stage debut at the Royal Ballet Diamond Celebration showcase as it promised to incorporate hip-hop movements to a piece about activism and protest. As expected, the Diamond Celebration show was a formal affair with minimal diversity; both in the audience and on stage. However, I was hopeful that ‘See Us’ would inject some culture into the show; sadly, this was not the case.
The Diamond celebration night was stunning – lots of beautiful costumes, some of the best dancers showcasing their skills on stage and a wonderful live orchestra playing great music.
Not only did they showcase classical ballet (La Fille Mal Gardee Overture & ‘Fanny Elssler’ Pas De Deux), but they also showed less conventional ballet (Dispatch Duet & See Us) which allowed the audience to see a good range of different ballet styles. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Diamonds from Jewels’ by George Balanchine. It was aesthetically pleasing to watch, with all the dancers moving in perfect formation in the beautiful costumes designed by Karinska.
The dancers sparkled in their white and silver outfits and looked like swans as they floated across the stage. I also enjoyed ‘Prima’ by Valentino Zucchtti which celebrates the figure of the ballerina today. It looks at the attributes that make up the individual ballerina and shows how each dancer is unique. I liked how each dancer did the same movement slightly differently to show that they are individuals, rather than all being the same. The performance was fun and the dancers were highly talented.
The main show that I was looking forward to watching was Royal Ballet’s emerging choreographer Joseph Toonga’s debut, ‘See Us’. This is his first work for The Royal Ballet on the main stage. Having read that ‘See Us’ incorporates hip hop movement and is about activism and protesting, I was interested to see how this piece would go down with the very white slightly elderly audience. As expected, those seated around me were more enthusiastic when they were watching the classical performances.
With krumping, African and hip-hop style choreography, the movements need to be very central and strong, requiring the dancers to dig deep into their soul to really perform each move. Sadly, the Royal Ballet house dancers, although fantastic when performing all the other pieces on the night, didn’t manage to give the soul-deep performance it needed which made the work feel a little stiff.
It reminded me a little of Julia Stiles’ performance in Save the Last Dance – where she portrays a classically trained ballet dancer who incorporates hip-hop moves into her ballet audition. Rather than delivering a ground-breaking performance, she ends up looking a bit stiff and lacking the natural rhythm and soul of those who dance from the heart rather than their heads. Unfortunately, this meant that the piece lacked the passion to convey the themes around protesting and activism, which were not obvious and likely lost on the audience.
Although I didn’t love the performance of ‘See Us’, I do believe that with the right dancers it would be an impactful piece. However, overall, I enjoyed each of the performances for the Diamond Celebration night. Although representation is desperately needed in ballet, I will continue to watch it and admire all the skilful dancers and their beautiful costumes.