Hamburg Ballet ends the season with a bang with the Nijinsky Gala XLIII

Hamburg State Opera
July 16, 2017

Maggie Foyer

Hamburg Ballet traditionally finish their season not with a whimper, but with a bang. The Dance-Days are a fortnight of intense activity, including performances of the entire season’s ballets and works from guest performers, all culminating in the Nijinsky Gala. This year the inspiration was Russia. Act 1 plundered the classical tradition, Act 2 celebrated Igor Stravinsky and Act 3 took the tradition forward including more contemporary pas de deux.

One of the season’s great successes was John Neumeier’s Anna Karenina and the meeting of Anna and Vronski at the party in Moscow was a highlight. The setting is stark minimalism: a white screen with two doors and Anna Laudere, a sophisticate dressed in a svelte black evening dress, accessorized with red clutch purse and cigarette. It effectively strips away the melodrama to give raw potency to the first sparks of illicit attraction. Laudere is a dancer of great eloquence who reveals hidden depths in a performance of infinite subtlety while Edvin Revazov, a superb partner, displayed irresistible charm as Vronski. The brief extract left me longing for more.

Edvin Revazov and Alessandra Ferri in the final duet from John Cranko’s OneginPhoto Kiran West
Edvin Revazov and Alessandra Ferri in the final duet from John Cranko’s Onegin
Photo Kiran West

Revazov also bagged the other high spot of the evening, dancing with Alessandra Ferri in the final duet from John Cranko’s, Onegin. It is such a privilege to witness a great artist like Ferri tackling these ballerina roles while still capable of all the technical challenges and bringing a lifetime of artistry to her performance. Tatiana, is one such role and Ferri lives through each moment: her youthful love and rejection still a haunting memory despite the knowledge that it was not to be. Revazov, as Onegin, coming too late to realise the treasure he scorned, is a soul in purgatory. Emotions were laid bare and nerve endings were quivering in a performance the like of which you rarely see at a gala.

Neumeier’s charming A Cinderella Story provided lightweight relief with Florencia Chinellato and Christopher Evans giving a charming interpretation full of youthful abandon. Guests from the Bolshoi, Anastasia Stashkevich and Artem Ovcharenko, offered Bournonville’s La Sylphide, memorable for James’ brilliant beats in perky red socks, and there was Soviet extravaganza delivered with fervour from Munich stars, Erik Murzagaliyev and Ksenia Ryzhkova, dancing the pas de deux from Spartacus.

Ivan Urban (Diaghilev) and Mihail Sosnovschi (Nijinsky) in Le Pavillon d'ArmidePhoto Kiran West
Mihail Sosnovschi (Nijinsky) and Ivan Urban (Diaghilev) in Le Pavillon d’Armide
Photo Kiran West

The extract of Le Pavillon d’Armide featuring guests from Vienna State Ballet, portrays Nijinsky in his later years in the asylum pursued by ghosts of his former glories. It is exquisitely costumed and the female variations were danced with period charm by Maria Yakovleva and Nina Tonoli while Denys Cherevychko, as the younger Nijinsky, was on splendid form. The emotional core is revealed in the duet between Nijinsky (Mihail Sosnovschi) and Diaghilev (Ivan Urban), a tangled relationship of love, desire and domination that works more powerfully in dance than it ever could in words.

Also in the classical tradition was Don Quixote but danced with such ease and playfulness it looked fresh-minted. Madoka Sugai played with the tempi like a jazz musician, holding her passés in the solo with knife-edge suspension, building to a whirlwind pace and finishing on a triumphant flourish. Karen Azatyan seemed to hover in the air at will, never showing any effort but always in the right place, at the right time and looking magnificent.

Madoka Sugai (Kitri) with Karen Azatyan (Basilio) in Don QuixotePhoto Kiran West
Madoka Sugai (Kitri) with Karen Azatyan (Basilio) in Don Quixote
Photo Kiran West

The Stravinsky tribute featured a powerful performance from Lloyd Riggins as Petrushka dancing out his love, hate and self-pity, alone in his room. This year’s guest company was the National Ballet of China (中央芭蕾舞團). Zhang Zhenxin (張鎮新), Zhang Jian (張劍) and Wu Siming (武思明) performed Fusing (融合), an abstract trio to a section of the Firebird score. It featured, in sculptured lines and poses, the brilliance of the Chinese ballet training. The main work was an extract from Neumeier’s Le Sacre of 1972. The large ensemble, all in flesh coloured underwear, are structured in multi-layered patterns and the movements are woven into the complex rhythms while Patricia Friza, as the chosen one dances to her death with terrifying realism.

The Hamburg Ballet Youth Company, under Kevin Haigen, aim to produce work socially relevant to our times and scored a great success with Dumbarton Oaks. It was a hugely entertaining piece of own choreography, cleverly constructed as the eight dancers shifted and shaped in infinite variety with Teresa Silva Dias a particularly outstanding member. The costumes, too, played their part as swirling skirts created additional rhythms and interesting patterns. These young dancers, skilled in so many dance styles drew on a dance vocabulary of street dance, voguing, contemporary and a bit of ballet showing a vibrant way forward for dance.

FusingPhoto Kiran West
Photo Kiran West

Students from the Hamburg Ballet School also played their part, opening the evening with Overture, a balletic folk ensemble celebrating Winter and Spring, and joining in on the final number, Neumeier’s Little Russian to Tchaikovsky’s eponymous symphony, with Leslie Heylmann and Alexandre Riabko as the central couple. It was an evening of celebration, bringing another year to a successful climax before the dancers take a very well-earned break.