Nijinsky Gala XLII, Portraits in Dance and Music
Hamburg Opera House
July 17, 2016
John Neumeier’s Nijinsky Gala is a chance to see practically all of Hamburg Ballet as well as extracts from the current repertoire in one, very full, evening. This year’s theme of portraits in music and dance introduced an even more diverse range spanning the centuries and ranging across continents.
Alessandra Ferri, one of the icons of the ballet world headed the bill but the programme opened by introducing the Bundesjugendballett, the company of young artists on the cusp of their careers. There was initial nervousness as they launched into extracts from Neumeier’s Bach Suite 3. However, they grew in confidence and the complex partnering was handled with professional assurance notably by Giorgia Giani and Joel Paulin with impressive solos from Minju Kang and Pascal Schmidt.
From the line-up of more regular Gala fare, Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano was memorable for the exuberant airborne leaps from Christopher Evans dancing with a teasing Madoku Sugai. It came as something of a shock when the first tutu appeared towards the end of the evening as favourites, Alina Cojocaru and Herman Cornejo, displayed their virtuosity in Le Corsaire.
There were also more modern portraits. Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, a sensual, modern and incredibly beautiful pas de deux was danced by Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili from Joffrey Ballet, she wearing a wickedly minimal red, lacy leotard. They were accompanied by Michal Bialk at the piano and he also played Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis No. 2, gentle and insistent, for Russell Maliphant’s Entwine. This had a stellar cast in Ferri and Cornejo but they performed in deep gloom so that little more than the entwining arms were visible while their dark-clothed legs disappeared against the set. The glimpses of choreography were tantalising but the overall effect was frustrating.
Tamara Rojo, director of the English National Ballet performed Fredrick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the manner of Isadora Duncan. It demands an act of faith to do an Isadora but Rojo gave a passionate performance finishing on the gentle A-Flat Major, Op. 39 No. 15 in a flurry of rose petals and I suspect her modern toned figure probably suits today’s audience more than a real Duncan would.
Another tribute to a former dancer was given by Silvia Azzoni in Désir written by Neumeier for the late, great Violette Verdy. Carsten Jung was on hand to offer support and the magnificent Bialk was again at the piano, this time playing Scriabin. It is a strange work full of unexpected moves, seeming to inhabit another plane and constantly stirring forgotten memories.
The programme went transatlantic with a brief portrait of Gershwin and then a second act devoted to extracts from Neumeier’s Bernstein Dances. The versatility of the composer is revealed in a medley of many styles and the dancers responded with similar versatility. Xue Lin was outstanding in Meditation No.2 partnered by Lloyd Riggins who featured throughout as a sort of chorus figure.
For the first time, the Dutch National Ballet appeared on the bill with Mata Hari, director Ted Brandsen’s ballet that premiered earlier this year. The splendid Anna Tsygankova danced the role she created partnered by Matthew Golding, guesting from the Royal Ballet in London. The extract was taken from the last act where Mata Hari finally meets her true love and it drew every ounce of passion from her. These dramatic roles don’t always fit easily into a Gala and it’s helpful when company member are around to provide context.
This was the case with Duse, Neumeier’s new ballet based on the life of Eleanor Duse and starring Ferri. He chose the scene where the egotistical, flamboyant Gabriele d’Annunzio, played by Karen Azatyan, meets the hot-blooded actress and sparks fly. He enters diving at her feet in a mass of red roses before stripping off to pose for the chorus of paparazzi who are on hand. The game of one-upmanship continues to the pounding chords of Britten’s Simfonia da Requiem: Azatyan young and bold and Ferri, the brightest star in the firmament, made me long to see the entire work.
One of the most dramatic and moving moments of the evening came in the penultimate number, the final scene from Neumeier’s Nijinsky. Against a backdrop of running soldiers, the desperate Romola, (a heartbreaking performance from Hélène Bouchet), pulls a wooden sleigh bearing her husband, Nijinsky, his mind wandering and unable to comprehend their situation. Alexandre Riabko, in this role that he interprets so effectively, is lost in his own world: sad and helpless. It was a testament to the depth of emotion these two artists were able to generate that they held the audience spellbound even after five hours of dance.