November 22, 2017
Times have changed. The queues around the block to see Russian visiting dancers and companies are over, but Amore, a triple-bill of new works commissioned by Svetlana Zakharova, was a terrific evening; one that would have been worth the sleeping bags and thermos flasks.
Amore opens with Francesca di Rimini, the 13th-century tale of a woman married off to an older, lame man (in this case, a hunchback) who has an affair with his (married) brother for ten years until her husband discovers them and murders them both. What helps make her plight echo down the centuries is that she was a contemporary of Dante, who included the tale in his Divine Comedy, with the lovers perpetually circling each other in hell, unable to make contact.
Choreographer Yuri Possokhov uses Tchaikovsky’s eponymous symphonic poem; tailor-made it would seem for a one-act ballet. Maria Tregubova’s set design is excellent. Suspended bodies tumble down to hell around the dancers, even as the lovers first meet and emulate Lancelot and Guinevere. Five court ladies in scarlet echo the emotions of the lovers and three men guard the inferno as the lovers are condemned to eternity apart. If there is one minor complaint, it is that the forced marriage and beginning of the affair are not dramatically clear and that the work ends with the lovers’ death rather than their eternal damnation to be together but apart.
Possokhov challenges every single one of his dancers and provides the audience with plenty to watch. He makes his dancers move in every plane and seamlessly sneaks in the odd Bolshoi lift in the central pas de deux. Three top-notch dancers at the top of their game, Zakharova, Denis Rodkin and Mikhail Lobukhin made it look effortless.
Igor Chapurin’s costumes are gorgeous and practical; a rare combination of form and function in harmony.
Patrick de Bana’s Rain Before It Falls provides another challenging work, this time for Zakharova, Denis Savin and the choreographer himself in a potent ménage-a-trois. A much spikier piece, Zakharova uses her legs like razor-sharp blades as she agonises over both her lovers. In a long, mauve dress and off pointe, she is at times reminiscent of an elongated Martha Graham at her finest.
Her black-clad lovers are set the challenge of creating their own characters, supporting their lover, competing with each other and yet, somehow blending into the background, as this is the woman’s dilemma. At one point, Savin kneels, back to the audience, with an arm extended across his body to allow his hand to support Zakharova’s chin. The angle of her head is echoed by de Bana as he lies prone, propped up on one hand, his head in her lap. But it is Zakharova who looks blissfully content, de Bana isolated.
A recorded, partly electronic score by Carlos Pino-Quintana is cut with Bach and Resphigi; a mix that works extremely well. Stephanie Baueuele’s costumes have see-through tops for the men, making them oddly more exposed than if they were bare-chested. Zakharova’s dress is veined with darker mauve as if her very life-force was on display for all to see.
As one of my Russian teacher’s used to say when presenting me with some Pushkin to translate “…and now for dessert!” As impressive as the other ballets are, Marguerite Donlon’s Strokes Through the Tail is probably the most technically demanding work in the programme. It is hard enough to dance on its own, let alone, for the principals, at the end of the evening and with sustained humour.
Donlon’s inspiration came from monochrome piano keys and Mozart’s Symphony No.40. Chapurin again comes up with a triumph of design, as witty as the choreography that it dresses. The men wear parodies of tail coated evening dress: but bare-chested and bare-legged, their trousers reduced to the briefest of black briefs. Zhakarova is given a flesh covered gown with a tulle skirt. Later, the men also don tulle skirts, their briefs echoing black through the flesh coloured net.
Forget, Les Trocks, this is much more sophisticated. The tulle skirts somehow emphasis the mens’ masculinity and adds a veneer of their ‘feminine side’. The jokes are physical too; a Spring Waters-like leap into the wings making the audience gasp and laugh. Zakharova then reappears stripped down to her bodice, black briefs and with an added tailcoat and shows that she can give as good as she gets.
The evening was topped off by the superb conducting of the incomparable Pavel Sorokin, who directed the house orchestra to fine effect.