Melissa's homecoming brings magic to intimate setting
Ulster Orchestra and the Royal Ballet. Millennium Forum, Londonderry
Melissa Hamilton's dancing is filled with moments of rare magic.
This is all the more remarkable because she didn't start training seriously till she was 16, and a year later her ballet school in Birmingham told her she would never make it professionally.
Seven years later Dromore-born Hamilton is in her third season as a soloist at the Royal Ballet.
She has already danced Juliet and duetted with Carlos Acosta, and is widely tipped to be Darcy Bussell's successor as the next great British ballerina.
This weekend audiences had a rare opportunity to see Hamilton in action, in a gala performance with three fellow Royal Ballet soloists and the Ulster Orchestra, part of the Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 celebrations.
Hamilton hasn't danced in Northern Ireland since leaving as a teenager, and her re-appearance on the stage of the Millennium Forum makes a forcible impact, not least because the relative intimacy of the Millennium Forum as a venue brings the performers closer to the audience than in larger amphitheatres.
This physical proximity emphasises the remarkable fluidity of Hamilton's technique in the second movement of Concerto, to Shostakovich's music, where she's partnered by Dawid Trzensimiech. Elegance can be taken for granted at this level of performance. What's striking, though, is the melting plasticity of Hamilton's body language, the smooth curvature of gesture with which she conveys the emotions of Kenneth MacMillan's choreography.
These qualities also permeate the White Swan Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, where Hamilton's graceful arm and hand vocabulary creates the illusion of weightlessness when Dawid Trzensimiech lifts her. The fact that the dancers are placed in front of the on-stage orchestra, with no pit intervening, further enhances the impact for those spectating.
The Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Derry-born Paul Murphy, battle gamely against a drab black backdrop and the deadening acoustic of the Millennium Forum in lively accounts of pieces by Delius, Falla, Beethoven and Stravinsky. They actually feature more than the dancers, making the programme seem a touch lop-sided.