Russian Ballet Icons Gala
Sunday 4th March 2012
What a night. The thing about this Gala series is that you don’t get standard gala fare – Don Quixote, Swan Lake etc,. Galas can present the kind of difficulties that you don’t find in the standard repertory and arise out of a lack of rehearsal time or space, language barriers, technical difficulties and so on.
In that respect, let me say right now that Svetlana Zakharova (Bolshoi Ballet) and Andrey Merkuriev (Mariinsky Ballet) were so perfectly rehearsed that, pacey and difficult as it was, Cor Perdut (Nacho Duato) appeared to be, well, perfect. As star after star pointed their feet in the wings it was evident that this gala would match the standard of previous years.
Tonight’s Russian Icon was Anna Pavlova. To most people, Pavlova is probably better known as a dessert (for which there is currently a competition to find a new recipe) but she was in fact a huge star of her generation and was honoured tonight by some of the stars of this one. Born in 1881, she packed a lot of dancing and travelling into her short life (she died aged 49). She trained at the Imperial School of Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg from 1891 despite her poor background and she joined the Imperial Ballet in 1899. She had great teachers who had also been stars, as is the Russian style, and was promoted to Prima Ballerina in 1906. She began touring in 1907, wasting no time, and visited Copenhagen, Stockholm and Prague among others. In 1909 she toured to Paris with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes (and later in London), and from 1913 she was touring independently, managed by her husband Victor Dandré with a number of dance partners including Laurent Novikov and Pierre Vladimirov. Pavlova had no children – her passion for dance was all-consuming – but she founded a Russian refugee orphanage in Paris in 1920.
Pavlova’s celebrity was as great in her time as any of the well-loved ballerinas of today are – perhaps more so, as she was known to accept invitations to dance almost anywhere and consequently was seen by so many. In that way she took ballet to people who’d never seen in before, introducing them to her style and captivating them with her glamour and magic.
As far as we know, Pavlova never danced Swan Lake in her entire career. It wasn’t her forte; she was known for her dancing in divertissements more than in the classics. So the White Swan Pas de Deux was an odd inclusion in tonight’s programme. Danced by Myriam Ould-Braham and Alessio Carbonne (both Paris Opera Ballet) it did look a little under-rehearsed and as a result, was underwhelming.
So too the modern pieces, as Pavlova was no fan of modern music. However, Pavlova was a fan of ethnic dances – Russian of course, but also Japanese and Indian as she had travelled so widely, and Ulyana Lopatkina (Mariinsky Ballet) delved into Kasian Goleizovsky’s Russkaya with palpable delight. It was perfect. Tamara Rojo (The Royal Ballet), in a World Premiere by Fei Bo called Life is a Dream, delivered a stark contrast both in terms of her personal style and with the rest of the programme. Dancing opposite a fish bowl (yes, the goldfish was there too), lying on the floor and dressed in a simple (though sparkly) taupe dress, the piece explores how we can relate to the fish’s state of consciousness if we are not fish. It sounds wacky, but Rojo has the most eloquent back, arms and shoulders and uses them all to devastating effect. The pure movements and oriental music (Wu Na) contrive to draw you in and question just what is going on.
It couldn’t have offered greater contrast from the Raymonda excerpt which Rojo danced with Sergei Polunin. He punches the air with his jetés, she returns with a run of fouettes that never leave the centre line, and they both layer this technicality with the noble nuances (in Rojo’s case) and the ‘I’m here!! I can do this with bells on!! Look at me!!’ slightly less subtly nuanced dancing (in Polunin’s case) of Loipa Araujo and Marius Petipa’s choreography, taking place as it does during the wars of the Crusades.
Following this spectacle were English National Ballet’s formidable partnership of Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov, dancing the bedroom Pas de Deux from Macmillan’s Manon. Were they intimidated ? Were they hell! Theirs is not a manufactured partnership geared towards the elusive quest for box office gold, it has been forged over time with care and practice. Klimentová looks as though she’s having the time of her life on stage at a time when she might have been forgiven for just packing it all in, and Muntagirov’s story is becoming quite the page-turner. He competed in the Prix de Lausanne at the same time as Sergei Polunin (Polunin took gold, Muntagirov the silver) and they both trained at The Royal Ballet School, with Polunin going to The Royal Ballet and Muntagirov to English National Ballet. Look at them now. Muntagirov has the freedom to guest all over the world (having recently danced as a guest with American Ballet Theatre in La Bayadere) and has benefited enormously from having the opportunity to develop his stagecraft over time, while the pressure-cooker atmosphere of The Royal Ballet has proved too much for Polunin who recently quit the company.
Splendid Isolation 3, with Mahler’s wonderful music and danced by fleet-footed Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky (real-life husband and wife from American Ballet Theatre) opens with Dvorovenko standing centre stage in the longest, widest, white dress you’ve ever seen, spreading out so far in a circle around her that the running order was changed to accommodate its arrangement. It was worth it.
Slightly so-so were the Romeo & Juliet Pas de Deux danced by Berlin State Ballet dancers Iana Salenko and Marian Walter (it just didn’t gel), Pavlova & Cecchetti with Lopatkina returning, this time alongside the Mikhailovsky’s Marat Shemiunov (it felt like the school-room piece it is) and Le Corsaire which opened the show and was not as elegant as it could have been with Anastasia Stashkevich and Viacheslav Lopatin (both from the Bolshoi Ballet).
Giselle, with David Makhateli and Alina Somnova (Mariinsky Ballet) was tender moment along with Compassione (Michele Merola) danced by Giuseppe Picone.
The stuttering film-and-photography sequences could have been utilised better or not at all. The overall effect added little of any significance to the performance because the footage available is necessarily of poor quality and number.
Evgenia Obraztsova (Bolshoi Ballet) worked her snake hips in La Bayadere, but somehow without the other characters it seemed a bit pointless – the snake in the basket was never going to do any harm.
Alina Cojocaru (The Royal Ballet) can do anything with anything, and La Dame aux Camélias is perfect for her. Long flowing hair, ruffled off the shoulder white dress and adoring dance partner – really the steps did not matter one iota (though they too were perfect) as she and Alexandre Riabko (Hamburg Ballet) swept us up in their flaming passion.
Lucia Lacarra (Bayerisches Staatsballett) and Marlon Dino (Bavarian State Ballet) brought us a beguiling La Prisonniere (Roland Petit) with a white ceiling drape and white costumes. The duet between Proust and Albertine (the ballet is based on Marcel Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu) is a tender one; a snapshot in time, until the drape gives sway to gravity and ripples over Lacarra, and time is lost.
The piece for which Pavlova was best known, indeed it was created on her by Michel Fokine in 1905 – The Dying Swan, was included with only a spotlight – no dancers. Had there been a stamping of pointe shoes about who would take on the iconic role ? In the end it didn’t matter; Anna Pavlova has been honoured and that was the point.
Watch Natalia Makarova and Sir Frederick Ashton discuss Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina. There are a few clips of Pavlova performing.