Oxford Dance Writers is delighted to welcome experienced dance critic David Bellan, formerly writing for the Oxford Times, as a guest reviewer; here writing about the recently performed programme of new works by the Yuka Kodama Ballet Group in association with Oxford University Ballet Society.

It’s several years since I have reviewed this company of talented amateurs, but I was as impressed as ever.

They opened with A Night in the Tropics, with tuneful piano music by the exotic Louis Moreau Gottschalk – a half Jewish, half Creole virtuoso pianist admired as a child by Chopin and Liszt. The work falls into seven parts, allowing Kodama to highlight most of her cast, choreographing for each performer according to their abilities. It has a classical look. It was well danced, and clearly well rehearsed. Most impressive, for entirely different reasons, were the company’s two boys: Matt Pybus and Taiga Kodama-Pomfret.

When I last saw Pybus he could barely dance, but how he must have worked to achieve his present standard!  While still clearly an amateur, he has developed the noble look of a premier danseur, and with his likeable personality he shows his delight in what he is now able to do. His competent partnering of the ever-elegant Sophie Bocksberger was another sign of how far he has come.

Technically he is of course not remotely near the level of Taigo Kodama-Pomfret, Kodama’s thirteen-year-old son, who is now at Elmhurst, one of the best vocational dance schools in the country.  Here is a star in the making.  He has the looks, the physique, the likeable charm, and above all the technique that should take him a long way in the dance world.  The jumps and turns and pirouettes that he showed us during the course of the evening must surely be above the level of his contemporaries at school.

The Twelve Months is a danced version of a Russian children’s opera by Sergei Banevich.  On a frosty New Year’s Eve, a selfish queen asks for spring flowers, and promises to fill the basket of their supplier with gold.  Katya, a poor orphan girl, nearly freezes to death in her successful search, but meets a group of woodland spirits, “the twelve months”. They save her, and later, when the queen has not paid up and leads a search in the forest, they reluctantly save her too. Katherine Reed was delicate and touching as Katya.  In an interesting piece of casting, Kodama has given the role of the queen to Daniel Fowler, who does it well enough, but with so many women available it seems a strange choice.  In the opera the months are men, but with only two boys who can dance and a big group of girls available, Kodama has given them a fashionable gender-change.  Apart from Pybus and Kodama-Pomfret (more fireworks from him) the other months are all women, each with a solo to show her off.  All perform well.  It was good to see Jade Shelton, for many years the company’s leading lady, still looking good.  Jennifer Appleby danced particularly well as February, and has the looks, and indeed the hairstyle, of a grand ballerina from a former age.

These dancers come from many backgrounds – there is a teacher, a classics lecturer, a data analyst, an editor, an interior decorator and a nursing sister among their number.  To follow a full time career and still put in enough training to reach the standard of this ensemble is true dedication to dance, and I take my hat off to them!

David Bellan

1st June 2019

Find out more about the Yuka Kodama Ballet Group here