Polish National Ballet in an often dramatic New Year Gala

Streamed online from Teatr Wielki, Warsaw
February 6, 2021

David Mead

Following on from the previously streamed parts one and two of Polish National Ballet’s New Year Gala, part three features another hour of work from the company’s repertoire, this time mostly works by artistic director Krzysztof Pastor that are less well known in Britain at least.

The streaming opens with the magnificent waltz from Pastor’s Swan Lake. Although links to the traditional Odette-Siegfried love story are clear, and significant parts of the familiar choreography remain, Pastor sets events in the Imperial Russian court, and the love triangle between Nicky, later Tsar Nikolai II, his first love Alix, Princess of Hesse (read Odette) and his mistress, the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.

Polish National Ballet in the Waltz from Krzysztof Pastor's Swan LakePhoto Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera
Polish National Ballet in the Waltz from Krzysztof Pastor’s Swan Lake
Photo Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera

From the elegant military uniforms for the men and pastel ballgowns for the women to the decor of the ballroom itself, the scene is rich in period detail. Pastor’s choreography is equally refined and flows beautifully. A little unusually, it’s the men who catch the eye. The undoubted highlight comes when two small groups follow each other, the dancers flying through the space in a superb series of light, soaring leaps that eat up the space.

The ballet is revisited later in the programme when Pastor treats us to the lakeside ‘Farewell to Mathilde’ pas de deux. Set to Tchaikovsky’s Elegy in G major and danced against an appropriately moody sky, the duet is incredibly poignant. Both Yuka Ebihara as Mathilde and Dawid Trzensimiech Nicky know this is farewell. The dance is full of sweeping, effortless lifts and close embraces. There’s a strong sense of regret but also that they know it must be. Even so, there are moments when they don’t seem to want to let go. She reaching away only to be pulled back.

Read more about Pastor’s Swan Lake in Maggie Foyer’s 2017 review of the full production.

Mai Kageyama and Patryk Walczak in Satanella from part 3 of Polish National Ballet's New Year GalaPhoto Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera
Mai Kageyama and Patryk Walczak in Satanella
from part 3 of Polish National Ballet’s New Year Gala
Photo Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera

There is more passion and intensity from Yuka Ebihara and Paweł Koncewoj in a pas de deux from Pastor’s Tristan and Isolde. The surrounding blackness draws you in to what is a dance of exquisite beauty. A hand in front of the eyes alludes to the story but it works beautifully as a piece of pure dance. Ebihara produces fine line after fine line in yearning arabesques, and when the couple wind around each other, it’s done so softly and fluidly their bodies could be water itself.

Although the pas de deux features occasionally in galas (and in English National Ballet’s Emerging Dancer 2020 evening), the full version of Petipa’s Satanella is not found much in company repertories. The Satanella of the title is the devil in disguise, who Count Fabio, a young society favourite, falls passionately in love with.

Once she whips off her mask, Mai Kageyama and partner Patryk Walczak pull out the stops in what is a typical gala number. They have great rapport. Kageyama is nicely spiky with perfect penchées and arabesques, although it is Walczak who catches the eye. His lifting is strong and powerful, his jumps are high with lots of ballon, and a series of pirouettes in second position is both clean and very fast.

Yurika Kitano and Dawid Trzensimiech in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in GenzanoPhoto Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera
Yurika Kitano and Dawid Trzensimiech
in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano
Photo Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera

For all the superb dancing here and elsewhere, I’m not sure I will ever get used to watching bows taken to silence, although I suspect canned applause might be even worse. For some reason it seemed particularly deafening here.

‘Wie lange noch?’ (How much longer?) from Pastor’s ballet Kurt Weill takes us back to darker, deeper meanings. The song’s words are those to an ex-lover. They speak of lost trust and betrayal. “You promised me blue skies. I cared for you like my own father. [But] you have tortured me. You have torn me apart.” Written in 1944, the singer was in fact the German people, and the ex-lover, Hitler.

Dancers Rosa Pierro and Rinaldo Venuti make associations and impressions, although not with the events of that time. The choreography is poetic but, in many ways, also enigmatic, indeterminate. I sense a quiet desperation, a sorrow. From Venuti in particular, there seems to be a not so much a wish that it had not come to parting but a lack of comprehension about how it did. It ends hauntingly, with him walking away into the darkness.

Next up, Yurika Kitano and Dawid Trzensimiech bring a much needed dash of Italian sunshine in the pas de deux from August Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano. Exceptionally acted and danced, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it done this well. Both dancers brim with happiness, Kitano in particular looking beautifully innocent and fresh, with eyes only for her young lover and a smile as broad as you could wish for. Both excel in batterie that’s clean, fast, precise and has all the required ballon.

Polish National Ballet in Moving Rooms by Krzysztof PastorPhoto Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera
Polish National Ballet
in Moving Rooms by Krzysztof Pastor
Photo Ewa Krasucka, Polish National Opera

The evening ends with ‘fragments’ from Pastor’s excellent Moving Rooms, a ballet where Bert Dalhuysen’s lighting is all important. A couple in nude-coloured briefs and leotard are like marble statues come to life. As their bodies unfurl, balletic poses mingling happily with contemporary moments, the light plays off their bodies marvellously.

As the excerpts progress, the dance gets sharper and has great sense of direction. There is some fantastic, accented work. Pastor places dancers in individual boxes of light or in a strip. One quartet almost looks like two films have been superimposed on one another. It continues to build, Pastor’s choreography keeping pace with the music of Henryk Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto that resembles the faster and faster pumping pistons of an engine or perhaps industrial machinery. It’s a thrilling ride all the way to the destination and the end of a rather brilliant gala.

To coincide with the streaming, Polish National Ballet has rereleased the first two parts of the gala.

Part One includes a sparkling Bluebird pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty by Melissa Abel and Rinaldo Venuti; and the Grand pas de deux Wayne Eagling’s familiar The Nutcracker with Mai Kageyama and Maksim Woitiul. There’s also excerpts from Pastor’s Preludium and Toccata (both with music by Wojciech Kilar), the Odalisques trio from Le Corsaire and the pas de deux from La Bayadère.

Part Two opens with a soaring Pas d’esclave from Le Corsaire by Kageyama and Ryota Kitai. There’s also the Grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote, and from Pastor, a further excerpt from Kurt Weill and Bolero.

All told, they make a fabulous introduction to the very wide repertory of this excellent company.

All three parts of Polish National Ballet’s New Year Gala are available online at vod.teatrwielki.pl until February 18, 2021.