Charlotte Kasner is at the London Coliseum
March 6, 2016
It was a shock to many in the audience at Ave Maya to realise that it is ten years since the Russian ballet Icons Gala that celebrated Maya Plisetskaya’s 80th birthday. She was one of the last surviving icons of the Soviet era and one who many in the house would have had the opportunity to see in Russia and abroad.
Although renowned for her roles in the classical cannon, Plisetskaya loved Béjart and Petit and will possibly be as much remembered for Carmen and Anna Karenina as she was for Odette/Odile and Kitri. In common with many of her colleagues, she had a turbulent relationship with the Soviet bureaucracy inside and outside of the Bolshoi, but she was nothing if not a fighter and, with the advantage of coming from a ballet dynasty, eventually won through.
The Gala programme was an excellent combination of old favourites, some modern pieces and some from both sides less familiar.
Angelina Voronsova and Viktor Lebedev of the Mikhailovsky opened with a glorious grand pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty setting a high standard for the rest of the evening. They were followed by The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli in the balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet; Lamb is not the obvious casting for Juliet but she was competent and Bonelli fluid in his partnering if lacking rather in passion.
It was a bit of a shock to the ears to follow Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev with the workaday Drigo/Pugni pas de deux from The Talisman. The surviving duet was created by Gusev in the 1950s and makes for a fun gala item that was danced flat out by Yekaterina Osmolkina and Kimin Kim (Mariinsky Ballet).
The brand new Together Alone by Benjamin Millepied may have been created at the last minute with a dancer who was a replacement but it looked pretty polished none the less in this performance with Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau from Paris recreating their roles from the world premiere. A wistful elegy to doomed relationships everywhere, this blue-jeaned pas de deux provided a thoughtful interlude amongst the fireworks.
Next up was a new favourite from the rip-roaring success of Ratmansky’s re-creation of Shostakovich’s Bright Stream. Shostakovich was never very lucky with his ballets; such a pity that he would never know how popular this 1935 work was to become. Ekaterina Krysanova and Andrei Merkuriev (Bolshoi Ballet) were knockout, the former a fine actor/dancer, coping as well with characterisation and she did with the technical challenges.
Onegin with Polina Senionova (ABT) and Jason Reilly (Stuttgart Ballet) sits a little oddly as a gala option. It is very difficult to pull off an out of context dramatic scene that relies on the audience picking up quickly where they are in the plot and this felt and looked a little dull at times.
Giselle with Kristina Shapran and Xander Parish (Mariinsky) proved safer ground, although it must be said that the back projection was rather odd considering that we are supposed to be in a lonely wooded spot at the dead of night. In general, back projections are an effective and economic way of presenting galas but here they seemed hastily thought out and in places looked like a computer default screen. Shapran’s tutu was also a little long and partly obscured her exquisite batterie and made the developées a la seconde seem like a sudden surprise as a foot popped out through acres of tulle. Purple tights did Parish no favours either. That aside, the well matched pair definitely left everyone wanting more.
Spiral Twist is a re-working of a longer Maliphant piece with new music added to differentiate it from the original. What a terrific piece it is too. Richter’s music pulls in references from all over the last century, at times sounding a little like Ravel at others like Philip Glass. Husband and wife team Lucía Lacarra and Marlon Dino (Bayerisches Staatsballett) were superb. They were entwined and looped as they twisted and turned like ribbons in the wind. So seamless were their movements that at times it looked as if they were skating on ice. There was one particularly splendid turn that was executed at a low level and seemed to defy the laws of physics and friction. Mesmerising.
The first act finished with one of Plisetskaya’s signature pieces, Bolero, this time choreographed for Farukh Ruzimatov (Mariinsky) by Nikolai Androsov. The Béjart 1975 version is a hard act to follow but Ruzimatov is certainly the man to do it. He looked leonine and menacing as he rippled arms and fixed the audience in an audacious stare, slowly working his way downstage as the music built. It is tough for musicians and dancer alike to keep their place in such a repetitive work; reputedly, Plisetskaya needed a person at the back of the theatre to signal to her when it was first performed, much as Diaghilev’s dancers had needed to come to terms with Stravinsky. Interestingly, in such a youth-orientated world, Plisetskaya was 50 when she first performed the work and Ruzimatov is 52.
The second act also started with a bang, fittingly enough in a pas de deux for which Ruzimatov was famed: Le Corsaire. Danced by Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin (ABT), it proved that this old favourite is safe with the new generation and is still challenging dancers a century and a half after being created.
Marianela Núñez and Thiago Soares followed with Wheeldon’s After The Rain, recently seen at Covent Garden, a rather tepid piece that is overwhelmed by its music, Arvo Pärt’s familiar Spiegel im Spiegel. Núñez was unfortunately given an unflattering pink leotard that showed up poorly in the lighting.
If Plisetskaya was famed for the new works that she created, it is with Swan Lake from the classics with which she will be most associated, having danced it before every major politician and many, many distinguished visitors throughout her career. Here Liudmila Konovalova of the Vienna State Ballet and Matthew Golding danced the black swan pas de deux, the former all spiky ferocity in a glorious black and gold tutu. This was probably the most frustrating section of the whole evening as I longed to see her in the full work. What an intelligent approach to Odile with teasing references to Odette that are snatched away provocatively as Siegfried tries to respond. She can knock of the fouettés too with some real competition between those and Golding turns. Indeed, as with many galas, many of the ladies were out-fouttée-ing each other with each successive piece.
An excerpt from Spartacus was an interesting inclusion, not least because it was the Grigorovich version which Plisetskaya hated. She appeared in two earlier versions by Jocobsen and Moiseyev, both naturalistic but both now lost. Grigorovich’s pared down distillation of both the score and the narrative did not sit well with Plisetskaya although it has assuredly ensured that it is included among the canon of great works and one of the most popular performed by the Bolshoi. It is not clear whether the original plan was to present the Spartacus and Phrygia pas de deux as suggested by the programme notes, but we in fact saw the Bolshoi’s Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantrov dance a section as Crassus and Aegina. Like Onegin, it is not an obvious choice to take out of context and was not helped by the very abrupt cutting of the recorded music. It is understandable that some pieces would not be able to be played live because of the cost and logistics involved, more’s the pity.
From ancient Rome, we travelled to Spain for a rare chance to see the famous farruca from Le Tricorne, choreographed by the legendary Antonio, and here danced by Spanish classical dancer Sergio Bernal. It is a rather old fashioned form of flamenco and difficult to hear the zapateado on a stage that is not wired to reflect the sound. Exciting nonetheless, and wonderful to hear the fabulous music of a composer who is rather neglected.
We flipped briefly back to Poland for the Moszkowsky Waltz which brought firm favourites Vadim Mungtagirov and Daria Klimentova back together again after their ‘farewell’ Romeo and Juliet with ENB last year. Another great Soviet choreographer, Voinen, created this gala perennial and. on any other occasion without such huge competition, would rightly have brought the house down.
Back in Spain, Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez danced a section from Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite. So familiar is this production and Rodion Shchedrin’s (Plisetskaya’s husband) wonderfully percussive version of the score, that it is easy to forget that that he composed it only after Shostakovich and Khachaturian had turned it down. One can imagine that they shared many a bottle of good Georgian wine discussing that decision!
Rojo is a very different proposition to Plisetskaya but she is no less fiery and managed to make this powerful piece her own, oozing contempt and sexuality as she toys with Don Jose. Given the lack of women in authoritative positions in the ballet world, how lucky we are to have seen two female artistic directors dancing.
We remained in Spain as the evening ended with the notoriously tricky Don Quixote pas de deux, danced by Ivan Vasiliev and Kristina Kretova (Bolshoi Ballet), the latter in the role in which Plisetskaya made her debut an unbelievable 66 years ago. They are both ideal for dancing Basil and Kitri, flinging off virtuosos steps as if they were class room warm-ups.
This was a cracking evening, tinged with sadness and there was probably not a dry eye in the house as Andris Liepa placed a vast basket of red roses at the foot of Maya Plisetskaya’s image.