A memorable evening in Hamburg: Nijinsky Gala XLVII

Hamburg Ballett and guests at the Hamburg State Opera
July 3, 2022

The theme of this year’s Gala was anniversaries, but the subtext was Ukraine, most evident in the display of yellow and blue flowers and a collective feeling that art must rise above the destructive power of war. It was, as expected, a long evening with some of the best dance on the planet and memorable performances.

The pas de deux were not the usual party pieces, although Olga Smirnova and Jakob Feyferlik, in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique, were as dazzling a star turn as you’re ever likely to see. Smirnova, now a principal with Dutch National Ballet, took an ethical stand to leave the Bolshoi Ballet over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and their loss is our gain. Grand Pas is perfect ballerina material and she fulfils all expectations. Her calm authority makes light work of the extreme challenges. She is always in control with legs of steel and kitten-soft feet. Feyferlik stepped up to the mark, with vibrant, crystal clear technique, enjoying the edge that conductor, Nathan Brock, gave to Auber’s music.

The couple also performed Hans van Manen’s Trois Gnossiennes, Feyferlik has been with the Dutch National Ballet for several seasons, but Smirnova is new to the Dutch master’s work. Like the consummate artist she is, she translated her classical purity to the modern idiom and expertly created his iconic shapes and cool detachment reinforced by her partner’s experience and support.

Ida Praetorius as Romola and Alexandre Riabko as Nijinsky
in ‘On the Ship’ from John Neumeier’s Nijinsky
Photo Kiran West

L’Après-midi d’un faune and an extract from the ballet, Nijinsky whichchronicles his romance with Romola, give two fascinating images of Neumeier’s Faun. ‘On the Ship’, dancing to Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov’s sensual music, Ida Praetorius as Romola is the epitome of feminine beauty and Alexandre Riabko as Nijinsky is smitten. Marc Jubete as Nijinsky, the Faun, suggests the unbridled passion her beauty has awakened. The duet becomes a trio, the narrative moving seamlessly across the divide between reality and the senses as the tragedy of the love affair is played out.

Edvin Revazov (in the hat) and David Rodriguez
in John Neumeier’s L’Aprés-midi dún faune
Photo Kiran West

Neumeier’s interpretation of L’Après-midi d’un faune also has a dream-like quality. Edvin Revazov, a poetic figure, relaxes on the beach. The sculpted form of David Rodriguez as the Faun materialises from the rocks and almost merges into Revazov’s sleeping body. Revazov absorbs the spirit, assuming the Faun pose as he eats from a bunch of grapes. When Anna Laudere enters, the ballet becomes a dream world of sybaritic indulgence ending as a bemused Revazov returns to the everyday. There are few choreographers who are able to take human emotions to such soaring artistic heights. Thankfully Neumeier, who retires after next season, has left us a great legacy.

Fantasy also plays a part in Don Juan as the hero, Alexandr Trusch, faces a gentle but compelling Death, Alina Cojocaru. When she briefly disappears in the mists, he launched into a brilliant solo returning to the swagger of his youth. She calls him back and, ashamed and contrite, he yields. There is almost a hint of Giselle and Albrecht in the closing moments.

Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball in Kenneth MacMillan’s Carousel
Photo Kiran West

It was a delight to see Kenneth MacMillan’s duet from Carousel danced with such joy and abandon by Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball from The Royal Ballet in London. Richard Rodgers’ music cries out for great dance and got it. Starry-eyed Magri and Ball with a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude captured the characters and the audience’s heart.

In A Cinderella Story, love was the real thing. The couple hover on the threshold of a dream: two sweet young things transformed into magical creatures. Never has ‘love at first sight’ been so potently expressed, and in astoundingly good performances from Madoka Sugai, who lives every emotion, and newly promoted, Alessandro Frola one of the most exciting young talents in the company.

Leslie Heylmann
Photo Kiran West

The Grand Pas de deux from The Nutcracker was an opportunity for the Hamburg audience to say farewell to one of the company’s best loved principals, Leslie Heylmann. A dancer who has excelled in a wide variety of roles, her talent and the humanity she gave to each performance will be sorely missed.

Students from the feeder school opened the evening with a fiery Gopak followed by the Bundesjugendballett (Youth Ballet Company) in Opus 67 from Raymond Hilbert, a contemporary work expressing relevant ideas by young dancers ready to take on the dance world.

Bundesjugendballett in Opus 62 by Raymond Hilbert
Photo Kiran West

Ballett am Rheim from Düsseldorf presented a brand-new choreography From time to time. It marked the anniversary, 60 years back, when Neumeier left the United States planning to spend one year in Europe! The nostalgic Simon and Garfunkel melody and the video of the lonely road set the scene for a conversation in movement. The boy and the man, the arms in an empty embrace that eventually finds fulfilment. The company led by Julio Morel were impressive.

The Beethoven-Project II, using the final movements from his 7th Symphony made, for a rousing climax. The irrepressible Madoka Sugai blazed like a firecracker aided by Alexandr Trusch and the company to close another great Nijinsky Gala.

Ballett am Rhein in From Time to Time
Photo Kiran West