Images Ballet Company presented a programme of joyful, colourful and musical work at Didcot Cornerstone Theatre on Thursday. Interlacing originality with tradition, the opening work, Interplay by Mikaela Polley, set the tone for the evening as light gradually bathed the backdrop in blue, revealing percussionist and composer Martin Pyne upstage right, and seven dancers stage left, silhouetted in beautifully placed classical ballet poses.

Images is the company of London Studio Centre’s graduating ballet students (six women, two men this year) and it gave the dancers the chance to work with four different choreographers on new works, exploring ballet as a means of expression and communication. The light hearted Interplay, with its changes of direction and use of pointe and swift, darting petit allegro was full of friendly interactions between the dancers.

Andrew McNicol’s Mirrors, to Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs, for three female dancers, created a more mystical mood with expressive ports de bras and sweeping bends: one dancer sat with her back to the audience, her silvery white skirt spread about her as if she were emerging from a pool of water. There were hints of reflections and echoes throughout the stream of flowing movement.

In Cameron McMillan’s On Lineage to music by Ezio Bosso, (the only work that was not on pointe), all eight dancers, elegantly dressed in filmy maroon or blue, showed their understanding of how classical ballet vocabulary, without being taken to physical extremes, can convey mood and meaning in contemporary work.

Finally, Ashley Page’s Meadowdown, to extracts by Benjamin Britten, was a high spot of lovely ballet dancing: it was like watching a field full of flowers, with a playful variety of movement that ranged from grands jetés to gliding walks.

Such a small group (only eight dancers in all, with a small technical crew) faces logistical problems, but the transitions between the works were handled with wit and humour: the dancers helped to clear Pyne’s percussion set, while he played with fewer and fewer instruments, eventually leaving the stage shaking just a couple of maracas.

Artistic director Jennifer Jackson has overseen an exciting growth in the company’s performance quality. In all four of these abstract works, the dancers showed their ability to create a world on stage and convey a sense of narrative by engaging both with each other and with the music and a musician, without continually facing out at the audience. There was excellent attention to detail in every aspect of the production, from the lighting to the women’s hair, which they wore ‘up’, but braided instead of in a bun. Despite a few rough edges, the entire show felt more secure than when they visited last year and the extensive use of pointe underlined the dancers’ increasing technical capability.

As this is essentially a graduation company, most of the dancers change each year, but it was a great delight to see for the second year running Esme Calcutt, a former student of Oxford teacher Penny Cullerne-Bown, and to see how she has developed in artistry at London Studio Centre without losing her own subtly distinctive way of moving.

There will be another chance to enjoy this company’s energy, vigour and charm on 18 and 19 June, when they dance at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadlers Wells.

Maggie Watson

15th June 2019