A sparkling evening of superlative dance: Ballet Icons Gala

London Coliseum
January 26, 2020

Charlotte Kasner

It is hard to believe that it is 15 years since Ensemble Productions first brought us the Ballet Icons Gala, so much has it become a fixture in the London season. This year, the ‘icons’ were communal, rather than a tribute to an individual and, greatly overused although the word is, much was truly iconic.

Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique is relatively unknown in Britain. Although premiered in Paris in 1949, it harks back to mid-19th-century Russia, a country that the choreographer left in the New Economic Policy period of the 1920s, spending most of his later life in Germany. It’s easy to see why it’s a gala favourite given its showcasing of both male and female technique. Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov did not disappoint and provided quite an act to follow.

Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov in Grand Pas ClassiquePhoto Kristyna Kashvili
Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov in Grand Pas Classique
Photo Kristyna Kashvili

On more familiar territory, Diamonds from George Balanchine’s Jewels gave Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish an opportunity to scintillate and they duly obliged. The cool classicism with razor-sharp footwork and demanding partnering epitomised Balanchine’s native St Petersburg, with just a hint of Kchessinskaya dancing Giselle in her best sparklies to ensure that her adoring admirers continued giving!

Finding Light by Edwaard Liang is an altogether different animal. A rather melancholy pas de deux danced by Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding it offered its own challenges realised in a pleasing fluidity to a less than memorable piece by Vivaldi.

Yasmine Naghdi was a terrific Giselle. She clearly understands to the full the method of creating the illusion of feather down lightness. She was a soulful will-o-the-wisp slipping out of Marcelino Sambé’s grasp whilst effortlessly knocking off twinkling batterie. Sambé was no slouch himself, a panther-footed Albrecht with an impressive jump.

Yasmine Naghdi and Matrcelino Sambe in GisellePhoto Kristyna Kashvili
Yasmine Naghdi and Matrcelino Sambe in Giselle
Photo Kristyna Kashvili

Frida was a sneak preview of the full-length work that is being developed out of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s one-act ballet for English National Ballet, Broken Wings. Dutch National Ballet was not the only one who left those performances wanting more and the new work premieres next month.. Maia Makhateli and James Stout were the eponymous long-suffering heroine and Diego Rivera, on the surface an unlikely partnership for each other, never mind the subjects of a ballet! This teaser was every bit as delicious as the one act work and promises much. Let us hope that London gets an opportunity to see the new ballet sooner rather than later.

Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in OncePhoto Kristyna Kashvili
Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in Once
Photo Kristyna Kashvili

Carmen Suite harked back to a previous Ensemble Productions icon, Maya Plisetskaya for whom Alberto Alonso created the work. We have the great Khachaturian to thank for Shchedrin’s wonderful strings and percussion arrangement of Bizet, for it was he, the second composer to turn down Plisetskaya’s request for a score (the first was Shostakovich), who suggested that she go home and ask her husband. The stripped-down production, which shocked 1960s Soviet audiences, sizzles with sexuality although occasionally looks a bit dated now. Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov threw plenty of energy at it and it was a delight to hear it the music played live.

Staying in Spain, the perennial gala favourite, the pas de deux from Don Quixote, brilliantly executed by Nicoletta Manni and Julian MacKay, brought the curtain down on the first half.

There was no slacking in the excitement after the break with headliners Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger presenting the world premiere of Kittelberger’s Once to music by Sibelius. A refreshing change after the fireworks of multiple fouettés and barrel turns, it’s an intense, thoughtful piece. Osipova radiated charisma with every step.

Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc also examines a relationship, this time accompanied by Mozart. It is surprising to realise that this work is more than a quarter of a century old, although it looked as fresh as ever in this performance by Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello.

Victoria Valerio and Claudio Corviello in Le ParcPhoto Kristyna Kashvili
Victoria Valerio and Claudio Corviello in Le Parc
Photo Kristyna Kashvili

Elegie was another world premiére with Luisa Ieluzzi and Giuseppe Picone dancing to music by Rachmaninov. It is meant to be a tribute to the great Vladimir Vassiliev and Ekaterina Maximova but there is little that evokes that partnership and the costumes, or rather lack of them, were crude.

Back on more familiar territory, Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko gave a powerful performance of the grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty.

Akram Khan was represented by a pas de deux from Dust. Erina Takahashi and James Streeter are terrific dancers and seem to have grown in these roles, dancing with a huge amount of commitment. The full work is powerful and moving but, in spite of the best efforts of the performers, this isolated chunk sat uncomfortably in the context of a gala.

I wonder if producers toss a coin to decide whether Le Corsaire or Don Quixote will end their programmes. Both rather silly in their full-length versions, these 19th-century warhorses never disappoint in the detail and neither did Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin in the big pas de deux from the former. It was almost like a ballet version of “Anything you can do, I can do better”. Simkin’s daring jumps flew around the stage like ricocheting bullets and Salenko could have drilled a hole in the floor as she knocked off multiple fouettés without moving her supporting leg.

…and so endeth another Ballet Icons Gala and a show of much cheer on a rainy winter evening.