Lots to enjoy in this gala which was lightly sprinkled with ballet stars from the stages of the world. The air of the Coliseum was thick with excitement, and in fact, one could have been mistaken for thinking its foyer and halls, cluttered as they were with avid fans, was instead a theatre in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, such was the representation from the Russian population of London (and doubtless elsewhere). As such outside, sleek limos, burly guards; inside, stoles, a few fancy dresses and even, in the auditorium for added Russian-gala authenticity, one or two gentlemen tossing very Russian BRAVO! and “VO! VO”s with glee and generosity (as well as volume…).*
We fans were rather treated. Fourteen couples, a gamut of dance from the 18th Century up to the present, a few showstoppers, a few snores (for me) and happily, only one real stumble. There were more fouettés and cabrioles than you could shake a stick at, and enough sequins to please even the most ardent lover of sparkle and glitter (me).
To proceed in the order of running:
There was as with last year, a video shown on the far back wall of the Coliseum stage, which was more a tribute to the largesse of the stalls perhaps rather than to Plisetskaya herself, as those in the dress circle and above (certainly in the balcony) could really only see pointeshoes and ankles, rather than her full lush line. Her face became instead lips, a smile. Shots of limousine glamour became instead knees and calves, arms clutching flowers. Thrown flowers in ovation became legs below the knee. You get the picture – or rather, we in the cheap seats didn’t. Ballet is of course about footwork, but it is about features, too – faces, smiles, laughter, despair. The parade of shots and clips of a headless Plisetskaya wasn’t quite the best start.
Maya Plisetskaya. (Most of us saw the mouth only of the picture on the left…)
However, fine features there were, the gala a celebration of the beautiful (just about everyone,) and the bold (Kimin Kim, for example, and one Ivan Vasiliev – of whom more later,) and a range of those same emotions (smiles, laughter, despair) fully explored in mostly digestible snippets.
The evening started with the Grand Pas de Deux ‘Sleeping Beauty’, danced with charm, a nice amuse bouche. There were good turns from Victor Lebedevand crisp cabrioles but the partnership with Angelina Vorontsova felt a bit scrappy. There were nice relevés from her, although some of the choreography looked a bit weird to me, a few chutzpah poses Lebedev felt a bit more Don Q than Prince D, but there again, there was a correct (and lovely to my mind,) recognition of each other, a mutual bow during the dance, ballet’s beautiful politesse asserted. I was also pleased to see there were in fact no fish-dives in evidence but the choreography in general was unfamiliar and in many ways not fitting. (I have since learned that these were Nacho Duato’s own choreographic inventions.)
Second came the Balcony Scene from McMillan’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, with the Royal Ballet’s Frederico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb. This section is a tricky one to do on an open stage. Juliet lacks stairs to rush down, and there’s no balcony at the end to yearn from and reach for her lover’s hand. Bonelli fizzed in his turns, full of youthful verve, however the partnership didn’t quite effervesce the same. There were fine moments, Lamb’s “feel my beating heart” well telegraphed but in places her dancing felt more a case of steps, rather than invested with life. One or two moments felt a bit mannered. It here also became apparent that a gentleman in a stalls box decided to urgently answer emails on his phone, or instant message Kanye West, or play Candy Crush Saga…or just check his phone. In fact, every time he was slightly bored (which was often, it appeared,) his phone would flash on and that was that act lost to him.
Thirdly came Gusev and Petipa’s ‘The Talisman’. I had noted the delicacy of Ekaterina Osmolkina and was rather taken with her dainty dancing – until she stumbled. She quickly righted herself and recovered well. Her plush jetés in particular were lovely to watch, and she showed lovely form and shape in the large number of carried lifts, and her variation carried the same breath of delicacy and charm. As one rather expected though, Kimin Kim came blazing on stage bounding and leaping in his trademark way and obliterated what charm she established, but hey, it’s what galas are for. I am rather less taken by his line in turns, but his prowess in the air was clear.
Piped-in piano (Phillip Glass on playback) brought the fifth act (Benjamin Millepied’s ‘Together Alone’) to a start. Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau danced this whirring structure of movement, the narrative a little less clear to my eye, which finds the modern (perhaps modernity wholesale…) rather inscrutable. There was here ceaseless flow, an abhorring of static poses and clear phrases. At one point the dancers seemed to end as they began: supine, Dupont pointing to a corner of the stage, and thus people applauded, more perhaps in gratitude to find the piece ending as it felt a little over-long. But ended it was not. (Can people not recognise a musical cadence which announces “not finished yet!”?) There was more twirly-whirly-ness for a minute or two and then the spotlight faded. It was nice to see Dupont, who like Rojo heads up a ballet company yet still dances, but the piece didn’t affect me greatly.
A bit of comic relief with ‘The Bright Stream’ from Bolshoi’s Ekaterina Krysanova and Andrei Merkuriev. Merkuriev knowingly applauded his partner, made impressed faces at her fouettés, denied her the nicety of acknowledging her applause, and then hustled her offstage. He wasn’t quite mercurial, he seemed a bit too old perhaps to play this cheeky young man, but more worryingly he was a tiny bit sloppy, particularly in the arms. Nevertheless I found (perhaps misplaced?) consonances with Ashton in the choreography – there was that same sunniness in address, a touch of capering in the writing for the male dancer, the same cheekiness which Ashton’s males enjoy too. Krysanova’s razor sharp fouettés impressed as they travelled toward us with laser-like intent, and both dancers earned those distinctive Russian whoops from those who cried them out.
The renunciation scene from Cranko’s ‘Onegin’ was next but it felt rather robbed of passion in isolation. Onegin (Jason Reilly) himself felt slightly anonymous. Polina Semionova‘s Tatiana showed a grief well done, but the push-me-pull-you of emotional torment and suffering in Cranko’s narrative didn’t quite develop. And how could it really, in eight or so minutes? More desperation from Reilly could have helped. (Still, I liked Semionova’s costume.)
Next up, Xander Parish and Kristina Shapran in a section from Act II, ‘Giselle’. Parish still seems so young, and with it so full of promise. Those seemingly never-ending legs signify nobility he has yet to fully attain. Giselle herself had (aptly) beautifully airy feet but didn’t quite portray the spirit-girl as she should have been. At one point though, I think Xander pulled off one of the nicest grand jetés of the night.(Certainly this section was different from his act last year!)
Russel Maliphant’s ‘Spiral Twist’ lived up to its rather uncreative name, in fact for me transcending that name to show itself as a piece of beauty. I was impressed by its innovations, its search for different statements of passage and movement, and how it achieved a poetry almost as a celebration of Being. There were many striking moments therein, the various spiral turns, whirligigs, twists and lifts never ostentatious (perhaps too transient to seem so). The lyricism of the piece stood in contrast to that which had come before it in the evening. I am old fashioned and love Petipean ballet, but the modern sometimes has an appeal to me too. Here this modernity was akin to kinetic sculpture, alive and wondrous, but again, sadly perhaps a tad too long. Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino danced to Max Richter’s music, which I enjoyed.
I saw ‘Bolero’ listed and imagined it to be Béjart’s famous treatment of the score, but instead Farukh Ruzimatov danced half naked in choreography which left me underwhelmed. It was perhaps the most singularly camp thing I have seen for a long time. I do not wish to denigrate Mr Ruzimatov’s abilities, which are considerable, nor his artistic intent, which is admirable, but merely to suggest that the piece was not to my liking. He is to be commended for shouting a heartfelt “YAHHH!” at one moment. The lady behind my is to be likewise commended for keeping accurate rhythmic time to the pulse of Ravel’s score, although I rather would have wished her not to have done so with her knee on the back of my chair in the small of my back, forcefully thrusting forward with each enthusiastic beat of her leg.
The way Mr Ruzimatov left the stage was perhaps worth the preceding ten minutes alone. A slow balletic walk which brought to mind The Trocks, and which closed act I.
Daniel Simkin and Maria Kochetkova in Ave Maya: Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2016. Photo (c) John Ross, used without permission.
The opening of Part II of the evening, a section of Act II from ‘Le Corsaire’ would have made a Best in Show for me. It was said elsewhere (by Isemene Brown, I believe) that in the English National Ballet’s run of Le Corsaire, some of the male Principals treated it as an audition for an international ballet competition: the male variation lends itself to this ridiculous effervescent style, its Soviet stylings made to show Soviet supermen defying gravity (before they really did, for the first time…) Stakhanovite levels of dedication (perhaps the norm for ballet dancers?) dominating the stage. As such, plaudits to be awarded to the no-holds barred work of Daniel Simkin in particular. Splendidly macho leaps and 540 degree turns, muscular attack and an approach which said “sod it” to finesse, this was glorious, gleeful chutzpah in spades, and a cracking spectacle. In fact, it sounded like some of the brass section were watching the antics on stage, I heard quite a few wobbles from them, perhaps in response to the feats on display? Maria Kochetkova’s fouettés were taken at a tempo which was almost openly absurd, and even though her arms weren’t the most elegant in doing so, applause for her came loudly and without restraint. The bravura fireworks had achieved their intent, and I think they got the loudest ovation on the night.
If Maliphant’s ‘Twist’ showed the virtues of modern elegance, Christopher Wheeldon’s noted pas de deux from ‘After the Rain’ was the poorer for it. Which is not to say Marianela Nuñéz and Thiago Soares didn’t dance it with conviction. But I do not understand how crablike positions, writhing a bit on the floor or kicking a girl over can be seen as graceful. The famous “Titanic” type pose was particularly well done though. I was also struck my how nice Marianela’s hair was (yes, I was.) Not my favourite selection from the night but inoffensive enough I suppose.
Matthew Golding is a favourite dancer of mine (which, I gather is a minority opinion…) contentious to believe, it seems. He and Liudmilla Konovalova gave us the Act III pas de deux from Swan Lake. Konovalova was not the most mendacious Odile, nor the most outstanding I had seen. She was however, technically secure and a bright presence on-stage. Golding’s variation found wonderful musicality and phrasing (this I judged mainly on concordance of his hands with cymbal crashes, those same hands and fingers always clean in expression and consistently fine, as if a flourish themselves). All variations were well done, fouettés present and correct, Golding launching some lovely turns from second position, to Tchaikovksy’s rousing score. Fun to watch.!
Of the ‘Spartacus’ we saw I can say very little except that Mr Grigorovich’s choreography doesn’t quite inflame my passion as much as it did Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov. Danced to a taped score, it lost some of it’s drama. Nevertheless they gave it conviction. (And here the bravos came thick and fast…)
Antonio Ruiz Soler’s ‘Three Cornered Hat’ seemed a bit out of place by virtue of not being ballet. There was great dancing from Sergio Bernal. The fun flamenco-inflected dance and cape whirling passed by a little too quickly in fact, and it was a treat to watch him.
Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová’s in ‘Moshkovsky Waltz’ was fun, and it had some thrilling throws. Memorable was the distinctive spinning fishdive. Brave Daria to do these, but as it shows in their dancing, they are a strong partnership. The trust is there, the maturity of expression, and the joie de vivre sings loudly, clearly. A real pleasure to see. Their “curtain call” was addtionally delightful. Muntagirov running onstage with Klimentová aloft, totemic yet humble in the applause she was receiving.
Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová in the Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2016. Photo (c) John Ross, used without permission.
Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernández were next in Albert Alonso’s Carmen Suite. Hernández pulled off a few of his deliciously speedy spins, but too few. He is a dancer of pantherine dimensions, his comfort the brazen and the large scale. The choreography seemed to hem him in somewhat. As in his star turn in Le Corsaire, he needs a stage to bask and revel in, and smaller gestures, more limpid phrasing does not become him.
And thus, a full twenty five or so minutes after scheduled/advertised end time, came the star, nay, icon almost, everyone had been waiting for. Ivan Vasiliev came striding on-stage for a star turn as Don Quixote. And turn he did. In his variations he could not quite best Simkin for intent of expression but his “helicopter turns” and barrel turns were present, and lauded. (He could flick his big toe and garner acclaim…). His chaine turns seemed the poorer when one thinks of for instance, Steven McCrae’s same, yet Vasiliev’s disposition, his eagerness to show his abilities endeared him to an audience. One precarious moment of near overbalance from Kristina Kretova was saved by willpower and experience, notable for her focus in the face of near overbalance. Brava, Kretova. Her pointe was steely, her gaze the same. This was a Kitri not so much kitten as vixen. Was it worth nearly missing my train connection home to stay and wait for Vasiliev? Probably not as it happened. But as my friend said afterwards, had I not stayed, I would never have known.
I’d encourage everyone who enjoys ballet to attend the next one of these if it rolls around. The site listed the event as sold out, yet there were empty seats everywhere here and there. There may not, as last year, have been some stars as advertised, but London was well treated to a good collection of dancers.
*Those who have seen the film Bolshoi Babylon may not be too surprised to learn of the identity of one of these gentlemen…….