Dazzling fireworks and thoughtful dance: International Ballet Star Gala in Taipei

National Theater, Taipei
May 4, 2019

David Mead

This year’s Ballet Star Gala in Taipei again brought an interesting mix of the familiar and the less so, ranging from the dazzling fireworks of that old gala favourite, the Don Quixote pas de deux, to more thoughtful dance from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Uwe Scholz in particular. With the big companies all in the throes of major seasons, there were a few less well-known dancers too, not that there was any lessening in quality.

The opening Grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty had a slightly shaky beginning but things quickly picked up as Evgenia Obraztsova and Artemy Belyakov of the Bolshoi went on to provide plenty of silvery sparkle. The enthusiastic Taipei audience, generally starved of top quality ballet, lapped it up.

From silver to the red of Rubies, and the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s ballet, danced by Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta of the Bayerisches Staatsballett. These were jewels cut to perfection. In dance slinky and full of jazzy shine, the couple pit themselves against each other, she flaunting her hips delightfully. Jewels cut to perfection.

Drew Jacoby and Matt Foley in Remember Me by Sidi Larbi CherkaouiPhoto courtesy Art Wave
Drew Jacoby and Matt Foley in Remember Me by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Photo courtesy Art Wave

In a solo from Come Again by Goyo Montero, the bare-chested Jon Vallejo (Semperoper Ballett) demanded to be watched in a dance of effortless leaps and turns that also effortlessly shifts between floor and standing. There was a clear sense of loneliness and longing. Particularly beautiful were those sections lit by a single light that glinted off his body.

Remember Me by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, danced by frequent international guest Drew Jacoby and Matt Foley of Ballet Vlaanderen (Royal Ballet of Flanders, where Cherkaoui is artistic director) opened with a duet of smooth complex lifts that seemed to happen with the breath. But even better was Foley’s solo after she has left, a dance brim full of a sense of loss.

After Courtney Richardson (Semperoper Ballett) in a pleasant but disappointingly unassuming excerpt from The World According to Us by David Dawson, things ratcheted back up as the first half closed with pas de deux from La Bayadère and Le Corsaire by Marianela Nũnez (The Royal Ballet) and Daniel Camargo (Dutch National Ballet), and Ekaterina Osmolkona and Igor Kolb (Mariinsky), respectively. The Pas d’esclave from the latter featured the sharpest dance of the half in an en diagonal sequence from Osmolkona that positively crackled.

Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acostain John Cranko's Taming of the ShrewPhoto courtesy Art Wave
Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta
in John Cranko’s Taming of the Shrew
Photo courtesy Art Wave

After a much needed break for everyone to catch their breath, an excerpt from David Dawson’s The Four Seasons by Richardson and the again super Vallejo, was appropriately full of autumnal red and full of the joys of Max Richter’s take on Vivaldi’s original.

There’s usually one dance that really doesn’t grab you at all in most galas, and here it was Jacoby’s own Left Hand, receiving its world premiere. The movement with its occasionally stiff arms and legs and fluttering hands was intriguing even if meaning or intent was decidedly veiled, but it was rather like watching a piece by Marco Goecke, minus his clarity. Maybe it would have helped if the programme has given some idea of the inspiration. But I would like I second look sometime.

The pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella by Osmolkona and Kolb is pleasant enough but doesn’t really excite. It never really sparked. Maybe that’s no real surprise as pas de deux from ballets where the story is central and that come out of the narrative often don’t work out of context. That’s in comparison to, say, The Sleeping Beauty, where the emphasis is much more on showing off the dance, and where the story definitely comes second.

Marianela Nuñez and Daniel Camargoin Don Quixotephoto courtesy Art Wave
Marianela Nuñez and Daniel Camargo in Don Quixote
Photo courtesy Art Wave

But what followed was sheer bliss. Obraztsova and Belyakov were completely as one with each other and the music in Uwe Scholz’s sublime Sonata to Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, Op.19. Light and airy, it’s beautifully understated. There’s more than a hint of gentle love about it too: a hand on the should here, a look there. For most in the audience it was an unexpected highlight. It brought the most prolonged applause of the evening up to that point, and quite rightly too. A much underrated choreographer outside Germany, Scholz was a major loss to German ballet when he passed away in 2004, aged just 46.

A complete change of tone came with the Act 2 pas de deux from John Cranko’s Taming of the Shrew. Acosta as the cocky Petruchio who thinks he is going to get his way whether she likes it or not, and Summerscales as the fist-toting, fierce and feisty Kate, were a hoot, overplaying everything for all they were worth. There was plenty of superlative dance too, especially from Acosta who made light work of Cranko’s typically fiendishly tricky sequences of jumps and turns. Great fun.

So to that old gala warhorse, the Grand pas de deux from Don Quixote. When it’s done with as much attitude and flair as Nũnez and Camargo put into it, I defy anyone not to go away very happy indeed. Particularly impressive were her lovely long balances that seemed to go on for ever. Where does she find so much time in the music? Faultless fouettés too. She could have been dancing down a ruler so straight was the line as she came down the stage.

This 13th International Ballet Star Gala was another super evening of dance pulled together by Art Wave and Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨). It really was a grand evening of ballet at the National Theater, and you can’t write that many times in a year. Good news for Taiwan ballet lovers is that in October she is bringing Stuttgart Ballet to Kaohsiung with John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet (for me, the best version out there). Don’t miss it!