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Desmond Kelly Gala -- 28 June 2009 -- Birmingham

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I attended the Desmond Kelly gala in Birmingham on Saturday evening (28th June). It was splendid and I make no apology for the over-use of superlatives.

The evening took the format of slide shows of Desmond in various roles with which he is associated, followed by a presenter talking about Desmond and then a danced item. All the danced items had significance in his career and was not just a long string of dancers' party pieces.

David Bintley started the evening off with a moving tribute to Desmond and led into the first item - the pdd from La Sylphide danced by Roberta Marquez and Ivan Putrov from the Royal Ballet. It was a delightful and rousing start to the evening.

Galina Samsova introduced the next item with an anecdote reminding us of the oft quoted story that if you drop your programme and bend down to pick it up you will miss this duet! Yes it was Asaf Messerer's showstopping Spring Waters joyously danced by Ambra Vallo and Dominic Antonucci. There fabulous performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Ambra gave a beautifully intense and emotional performance of Giselle at the matinee.

Patricia Neary sent a recorded message that introduced Desmond's love of Balanchine. We were then treated to Robert Parker and Elisha Willis in the pdd from Prodigal Son - they were wonderful together. Next we were delighted by Jenna Roberts and Tiit Helimets in the duet from Apollo. What a treat to have Robert and Tiit back on the Birmingham stage, even if only briefly.

Marion Tait (and large handkerchief) then had us all moved to near tears with her talk leading into the Fight pdd from Cranko's Taming of the Shrew. This was danced by Leslie Heylmann and Filip Barankiewicz from Dresden and Stuttgart respectively. They magnificently caught the flavour of the relationship between Kate and Petruchio and really told the story.

The first half of the evening ended with the Grand pas from Sir Peter Wright's BRB production of the Nutcracker danced with verve and precision by Rachel Rawlins from Australian Ballet and Matthew Lawrence, now with BRB.

The first danced item of Act 2 was Robert Parker as Will Mossop in the clog dance from David Bintley's Hobsons Choice. Robert has always had a very special energy and stage presence and this was magnificent. It deservedly raised the loudest cheers in an evening of very loud cheers!

This was followed by Nimrod from Ashton's Enigma Variations, beautifully realised by Joseph Cipolla, Silvia Jiminez and Alain Dubreuil. This is such an emotional and moving piece that, needless to say, I wept buckets throughout.

As if emotions weren't already overflowing, Lady McMillan and Christina from Ballet Hoo! introduced the Ballet Hoo! company in the mandolin dance. It was tremendous to see these young people participating in this glorious evening and bringing the house down with their energy. This was immediately followed by Miyako Yoshida and Ivan Putrov, beautiful together in the balcony scene.

How could the evening possibly get any better?? Well it did with the finale which was a section of Theme and Variations led by Nao Sakuma and Jamie Bond. BRB looked FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!! As they led off in the diagonal the diagonal started again with students from Elmhurst. This finale was a piece of sheer genius - celebrating the end of Desmond's current career and moving on to his new career as Director at Elmhurst.

At the curtain calls there were more speeches and Desmond was presented with the RB's Gold Medal for 2008. He was clearly moved as the audience stood and cheered.

What a wonderful, exhilerating and heart-warming evening it had been!

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Thank you for reporting on this. It sounds like a terrific evening.

When Margot Fonteyn made guest appearances in La Sylphide with the (now defunct) National Ballet in Washington D.C. her partner was Desmond Kelly. I saw them dance it from very close up--first or second row--and have a memory-image in my mind of his emotional collapse at the end of the ballet. Very intense! I can no longer remember if he partnered her in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella which she also danced with the company.

Do you know if Kelly has been teaching/coaching in the latter part of his career? I take it to be rather a high compliment that Fonteyn counted on him as a partner, though I know even from my one brief memory that there was more to him as an artist than partnering...

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Nao Sakuma has got a big following amongst BRB's fans. She is known for her classical virtuosity and is often paired with Chi Cao (currently filming the leading role of "adult Li" in Mao's Last Dancer") in this respect. She has also matured into a wonderful actress over the years, especially in the tragic roles. She had a fabulous partnership with Robert Parker in the likes of Two Pigeons. This season she has developed a great on-stage partnership with Matthew Lawrence in both Swan Lake and Giselle. In terms of first nights and premieres, she has mostly featured in the classical repertoire but is often in the alternate casts of David Bintley's works. She was wonderful as Roxanne in Cyrano, for example.

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Desmond Kelly has been a wonderful coach and teacher with BRB, I have seen him taking classes that BRB Friends' have been able to watch, and also rehearsing dancers in many roles. Most recently we saw him rehearsing Jamie Bond and Ambra Vallo in Giselle. I believe he has a very special relationship with the Balanchine Trust and has been responsible for most, if not all aspects of the Balanchine productions that BRB have performed in recent years.

He is moving on to be director at Elmhurst School, which moved to Birmingham a few years ago and from which BRB is recruiting some dancers. The first two Elmhurst students taken into the company were James Barton and Nathanael Skelton.

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