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Last month Dance Journeys, our large scale project working with West London schools, saw ENBYouthCo join four secondary schools to perform REFRESH \\ RESET in a special matinee takeover at Sadler's Wells.

Since taking part in our dance writing course Dance is the Word in 2014, guest blogger Lara Hayward came to see the rehearsal and performance. Keep reading to see what she thought:

It’s not often that audiences get to see young dancers perform alongside seasoned professionals, but English National Ballet’s Dance Journeys creates the opportunity to do just that.

This year’s Dance Journeys saw 100 dancers from Copthall School, Friern Barnet School, Hammersmith Academy and Hampstead School share the stage with ENBYouthCo, students from English National Ballet School and English National Ballet in beautifully collaborative performances inspired by what can happen when you ‘tear up the rule book’.

Dance Journeys 2017. Photo © Danilo Moroni

Taking its cues from English National Ballet’s Bausch / Forsythe /van Manen triple bill, REFRESH\\RESET, was a triumph for the project’s Artistic Director Jo Meredith and the Company of young performers. Made up of four works individually choreographed for each school by Lucy Evans, Danielle Teale, Georgia Heighway, Hannah Kidd, Hubert Essakow and Katie Cambridge, and expertly woven together, the piece was accompanied by an original score by Thomas Hewitt Jones, played by musicians from the Royal College of Music Juniors Department, and members of English National Ballet Philharmonic.

Dance Journeys 2017. Photo © Danilo Moroni

It showed how differences can be accepted and similarities can be explored to create a wonderful world of collaboration. From the Forsythe-inspired motifs of geometric shapes, circles and parallel lines, to the push/pull partner work, the piece created a sense of tension, resilience and ultimately, inclusivity. In the finale, the ‘rulebook’ had been given a thorough refresh/reset, with everyone on stage working together to create a rousing whirlwind world of teamwork, collaboration and hope, which left the audience with the sense that anything is possible.

Dance Journeys 2017. Photo © Danilo Moroni

The thread running through REFRESH\\RESET continued in the pieces that followed. In English National Ballet School student Lachlan Murray’s masculine duet afFront, dancers Daniel Myers and Thomas Holdsworth were evocatively stag-like, pushing and pulling against each other in a beautiful battle of alpha males and iron wills. This was a battle without a winner, both men the mirror to each other in perfect lines, athleticism and prowess.

Anna Watkins’ Forbidden Territory, inspired by Akram Khan’s Giselle, explored similar ground – the oscillating push/pull in social conflict and myriad relationships. ENBYouthCo were mesmerising – the range of precise technique and exceptional talent on show belying the youthful ages of the Company’s members.

English National Ballet’s performance of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated to Thom Willems’ powerful score, was the perfect ending to this palpable celebration of doing things differently. The push/pull here was tension between classical technique and modern lines – all unexpected angles and explosive precision. This is ballet for the deconstruction generation. It’s mechanical and flowing – a coming together of two worlds that shouldn’t work, but does.

Dance Journeys 2017. Photo © Danilo Moroni

With some of the school students who have taken part in previous years progressing to become members of ENBYouthCo, the way participation raises the aspirations of young people is one of the best testaments to the importance of projects like this. It’s a wonderful example of what can happen when young people are introduced to and inspired by dance, and what projects like Dance Journeys can do: bridging those barriers between grass roots and professional dance to inspire the next generation.

As well as combining schools, locations, and backgrounds, the real strength of Dance Journeys is bringing together dancers from all levels of experience. The result is the tangible enjoyment of all the young participants. The ethos of the piece and the sheer joy in creating it shone through. In their own words, it’s “an opportunity to learn new skills, improve technique, make new friends, and step outside of comfort zones, whilst doing what they love”. In the words of Gavin Sutherland, English National Ballet’s Music Director, “what’s not to like” about that?

Video: Dance Journeys 2017. Photo © Danilo Moroni

English National Ballet would like to thank John Lyon’s Charity for their continued, generous support of Dance Journeys.