Russian Ballet Icons Gala
Tribute to Galina Ulanova
15th May 2011
Most of the audience (and the performers who are mostly students of students) hadn’t see Galina Sergeevna Ulanova dance live as this is just over the 100th anniversary of her birth. The Russian Ballet Icons series has been running for 6 years now, and this gala is probably their finest to date.
Interwoven with the dance were rare film clips and voiceovers giving accounts of letters written in the war to Ulanova by servicemen, adding depth to the stage. Layers of interest are what you need in a gala, even a gala like this with stellar dancers, and combined with the chosen pieces this tribute to Ulanova keeps her memory alive. It seems fitting that in mid-May 1928 Ulanova performed professionally for the first time and that some of her roles were performed tonight.
There is the famous story of the Bolshoi’s first London visit in 1956 when Ulanova, then 46, danced, and it took the clerks of the Royal Opera House over 12 hours to clear the ticket queue where people had been waiting for 3 days in post-war austerity to see her. “Just an ordinary Goddess,” they called her. Even Margot Fonteyn was smitten.
A highlight was The Red Poppy which is rarely seen in the UK, and Darya Khokhlova’s darting attack and contrasting melting into her partner Vladislav Lantratov, as the ship’s captain that Chinese dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with, symbolised the power of the poppy, in two extracts shown tonight – Golden Fingers variation and the Adagio from Act 11.
Another was La Belle Pas de deux, superbly danced by Bernice Coppieters & Alexis Oliviera. More melting! And some. Most beautiful of all was the lyrical Orpheus and Eurydice, with Ulyana Lopatkina and Marat Shemiunov who excelled in the “Winged Victory” pose, where Lopatkina was carried aloft. Ulanova danced this role, but you may not know that it has also been danced by English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Wayne Eagling.
Less spectacular were Le Parc (Nadia Saidakova and Vladimir Malakhov), which seemed ill-suited to the theme of the gala, and the Sinatra Variations for Igor Zelensky and Tatyana Gorokhova who just didn’t set the stage alight. Zelensky is a fabulous dancer but you wouldn’t know it from this piece, though his partnering is exemplary.
Surprises came in the form of the Adagio Pas de deux from Macbeth. Deliciously danced by a too-thin Svetlana Zakharova (who also danced The Dying Swan) and Andrei Uvarov and the Dvorák Melody performed by fabulous Vaganova students Olga Smirnova and Sergey Strelkov. Smirnova will graduate this year – and she is one to watch.
Gala staples Diana & Acteon were less of a surprise and less well danced. Thiago Soares failed to soar and Dorothee Gilbert danced as though she were in another ballet altogether. Zakharova’s Dying Swan only emphasised her own frailty. Juliet was regarded as one of Ulanova’s greatest roles, and tonight the Romeo & Juliet Pas de deux was danced by Evgenia Obraztsova and David Makhateli, a well matched-pair who met the challenges of Lavrovsky’s choreography with aplomb.
Les Sylphides, with Lopatkina and Shemiunov was a great way to start the programme, Fokine’s fluid and floaty steps laying the foundations for serious dancing. The Flames of Paris, or Plamya Parizha in Russia, fits well into the theme as Ulanova danced the key role in the 1933 premiere, and Ekaterina Krysanova and Lantratov were buoyant and bravura-filled.
The Act 11 Pas de deux from Giselle may have been Ulanova’s signature role; it was certainly one of her favourites. Svetlana Lunkina and Dmitri Gudanov were Giselle and Albrecht personified.
Finally, the Tchaikovsky Pas de deux, danced vigorously despite a major technical hitch, by Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov was as masterful a display of virtuoso dancing as you could wish for. Even more so given the change of lighting just before Muntagirov’s solo, which would have floored a lesser dancer. Good to see that he’s not put off by an impromptu appearance by Shakespeare !
This was a refined and well thought through tribute to Ulanova, giving two and a half hours of the some of the finest ballet money can buy. Don’t miss next years!
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the evocative photographs accompanying my review are by Daniel Paul Jones – a Soloist with English National Ballet. Jones has many strings to his bow (dancer/professional documentary film-maker/ photographer/choreographer) but this is the first time that “the dancer has filmed the dancers” for Ballet News and I hope you have enjoyed looking through them.