Review: Ensemble Productions - The Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2017 - London Coliseum
Performance reviewed: Sunday 12 March 2017
Returning to the London Coliseum, Ensemble Productions presents the glamorous annual Russian Ballet Icons Gala. Continuing with the ‘In the Steps of the Ballet Russes’ theme, the gala, now in its twelfth year, honours the legacy of Russian ballet and in particular commends Sergei Diaghilev’s highly influential dance company; Ballet Russes, as well as the Russian ballet school heritage; from which most of the troupe’s dancers were trained. Russian ballet’s influence on British ballet is marked by the founders of The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, Ninette de Valois and Alicia Markova, respectively, who both danced with the Ballet Russes. Accompanied by English National Ballet Philharmonic, under the baton of Russian Valery Ovsyanikov, the gala features an international cast from major ballet companies across the globe, performing works by both Russian choreographers and composers.
The evening weaves together 19th century classics with early 20th century works from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, in addition to those created by Russian-born Western choreographers such as George Balanchine and the Russian-inspired contemporary creations of today. The gala is further injected by an extraordinary appearance of the senior students from St Petersburg’s legendary Vaganova Academy; named after the renowned Russian pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova. Founded by Empress Anna in 1738, the Imperial School of Ballet, the name to which it was first known, was soon followed by the opening of another school in 1773, now commonly recognised as The Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
Celebrating the Ballets Russes’ repertoire, Mikhailovsky Theatre’s Ivan Vasiliev’s boasts his muscular form and powerful ballon as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Partnered by Bolshoi Ballet’s Kristina Kretova as Zobeide; together they display a dramatic interpretation of Mikhail Fokine’s one-act ballet to Rimsky-Korsakov’s expressive score. Ukrainian dancer Iana Salenko of Staatsballett Berlin, who is also a Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet delivers an alluring performance of The Dying Swan, set to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux; a ballet forever associated with Ballet Russes’ star Anna Pavlova.
Inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky’s scandalous 1912 ballet, Bolshoi Ballet’s Dmitry Gudanov and the National Ballet of Canada’s Svetlana Lunkina come together in Jerome Robbins’ modern ballet Afternoon of a Faun set to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The focal point of the gala is the rare appearance of Vaganova Academy students in Principal Nikolay Tsiskaridze’s The Fairy Doll, a one-act divertissement reimagined from the Legat brothers’ original to music by Joseph Bayer.
Royal Ballet’s Bostonian Principal Sarah Lamb is partnered by fellow company Principal Steven McRae in Rubies from Jewels; the middle section of George Balanchine’s metaphorical gemstone trilogy. 2017 marks fifty years since its first performance in New York, thus disappointing that English National Ballet Philharmonic did not play Stravinsky’s Jazz Age piano capriccio, but used a hasty recording instead. Maria Kochetkova of both San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre is partnered by Tyler Angle of New York City Ballet in Balanchine’s contrasting and concluding section Diamonds from Jewels to Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, thankfully this time performed by the live orchestra.
Bayerisches Staatsballet’s husband and wife team Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino execute an acrobatic array from an excerpt of co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet’s Gerald Arpino’s contemporary creation Light Rain; arranged to Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier Eastern rhythms. Also in the contemporary genre and set to an edited orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo dancers Liisa Hämäläinen and Alexis Oliveira are suitably cast in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ultra-modern Lac; most notable in displaying Hämäläinen’s fierce energy and attack. Premièred at the Barbican Centre earlier this year, Royal Ballet Principals Zenaida Yanowsky and Edward Watson, along with singers Jennifer Davis and Gyula Nagy perform a passage from Javier De Frutos’ new production of Les Enfants Terribles to music by Philip Glass. German choreographer Xenia Wiest’s world première and crowd-pleasing Theatrum Vitae is danced by Vienna State Ballet’s Liudmila Konovalova and Davide Dato.
The audience are dazzled by a stunning assortment of perfectly placed fouetté turns from Liudmila Konovalova as Odile in the Black Swan pas de deux in Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s illustrious version of Swan Lake and later by English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, partnered by fellow Lead Principal Issac Hernandez in Don Quixote grand pas de deux. Here, the vibrant coda section in particular is received with a resounding applause, bringing the gala to a jubilant close.
Naomi Cockshutt is a UK trained ballet teacher (Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies, Royal Academy of Dance) and Master of Science, Media and Communication graduate (Cardiff University), currently working for the Dental Institute at King’s College London. Naomi began writing for British Theatre Guide, Londondance.com and Theatre Bubble where she reviews a range of theatre; from classical ballet galas and vocational school performances to musical theatre and contemporary creations.