Review: Darcey Bussell & Igor Zelensky at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 28 Nov-2 Dec
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 29 November 2006

This combination of two of the ballet greats of recent times, whilst not without merit, fell far short of expectations. It was more a matter of quantity than substance: two intervals were longer than the dance breaks that preceded them; those who came to see Darcey were rewarded with just 25 minutes of her on stage in a programme that was little more than an hour. The longest of the four ballets contained neither star dancer – Edwaard Liang’s ‘Whispers in the Dark’ was performed by six soloists from the Novosibirsk State Company of Siberia (where Zelensky is to become Director). Liang’s choreography held a gem of a duet at its core and these excellent young dancers drew an enthusiastic response from an audience that had not particularly come to see them.

The initial contribution of the two stars was delivered separately in works made especially for them, starting with the premiere of Alistair Marriott’s Kiss, a 7-minute duet for Bussell and William Trevitt, based on the relationship between Rodin and his muse. It started and ended atmospherically with the sleek Bussell, a statue bathed in blue light, her taut muscle definition almost shockingly accentuated. The duet in between had some passionate interplay and interesting lifts but it was slight in many respects – more of a canapé than an hors d’oeuvre.

Zelensky’s solo was to be accompanied by the Russian Orchestra of London but for some unexplained reason it was danced to a poor quality recording, although Igor was accompanied for most of the performance by a happy moth that drifted in and out of the lighting most effectively. Sometimes it was more interesting to watch the moth. The first movement gave Zelensky the opportunity to show off his prodigious, multiple spins but the later stages of Alla Sigalova’s choreography were dominated by long slow, wistful movements and poses of dubious intent. It all went nowhere and was brought to an incongruous end by the lowering of the lighting bars to the stage. Why? Zelensky did his best to hold the audience throughout the work but the material gave him little help.

The two stars finally came together for Roland Petit’s remarkable *Le Jeune home et la mort, made in 1946 with a libretto by *Jean Cocteau. This is a highly stylised work, well worth watching for its designs alone. It opens with the young man draped over a couch – legs high, head brushing the floor – under a window reminiscent of Wallis’ famous painting of the death of Chatterton, an image of suicide foreshadowing the young man’s fate. It’s violent and erotic with much kicking of furniture and sexual intensity. It looked great in every way with a fantastic set (by Georges Wackhevitch), – where the young man’s garret opens up to become the rooftops of Paris – and wonderful costumes (by Karinska), all borrowed from La Scala.

Despite the historical and creative interest of this last work – and any rare glimpse of Petit’s brilliance on a London stage is worth taking – it couldn’t do enough to counteract the feeling that the audience had somehow been short-changed with a scant programme (without the promised orchestra) that seemed to have been put together just in time.

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