A glittering evening at the Russian Ballet Icons Gala

London Coliseum
March 31, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

London’s annual showcase Russian Ballet Icons Gala again lived up to all expectations. The evening of the familiar and rather less so got off to a lively start with Katja Khaniukova and Julian MacKay in the pas de deux from that perennial favourite, Flames of Paris. This was the version that the great Mikhail Messerer recreated from Vainoinen’s original production rather than the Ratmnansky revival that we have seen more recently. It would be good to see the entire production in full in London.

Although set in France, Flames of Paris is a very Russian work. Radu Poklitaru’s Lullaby followed on in the same vein. Kristina Kornová and Patrick Holeček danced the soulful pas de deux that belies the folk roots of the music and concentrates on conflict in a very modern setting. There are echoes of Prodigal Son as she wraps her legs round him, gripping his neck between the vice of her feet, then spurning him to end up on her own, satisfied.

Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin in La SylphidePhoto Jack Devant
Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin in La Sylphide
Photo Jack Devant

Zapateado reaches back more than half a century to the legendary Antonio who, with his partner Rosario introduced many to the art of flamenco and Spanish classical dance. Sergio Bernal has plenty of stage presence but here was too balletic for the style. He needs to sit more into his hips to produce the gunshot-sharp footwork that gives this dance its name. Instead he produced a shuffly, muddy effect and had to resort to flashy looks and lots of epaulement to make up for it. It was pretty to look at but not quite right.

Daniil Simkin has batterie to die for and Maria Kochetkova made a suitable elusive sprite in the Bournonville classic, La Sylphide. As she slid out of his grasp for the umpteenth time and he gazed transfixed at this will o’ the wisp, Simikin was totally convincing as a man obsessed. This being a gala, we had no need to worry about the consequences and could let it end happily ever after.

Wayne McGregor’s Qualia, set to Robin Rimbaud’s pleasing electronic score proved an excellent vehicle for the seasoned partnership of Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson, the latter having premiered the work fifteen years ago with Leanne Benjamin. Fluid and sensual, it made an interesting contrast to the cool classicism of Bournonville.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Joseph Caley in RaymondaPhoto Jack Devant
Ekaterina Krysanova and Joseph Caley in Raymonda
Photo Jack Devant

The delights didn’t stop there. The Klazz Brothers Remix of the Cuban Nutcracker enabled Julian MacKay to get in touch with his Latin American side as it riffed on a familiar theme to Alisher Khazanov’s sinuous choreography. MacKay has rightly won a shelf-full of awards for this solo which he seemed to enjoy hugely and definitely left the audience wanting more.

Another familiar piece, this time also in a familiar form, was the pas de deux from Raymonda, danced by Ekaterina Krysanova and Joseph Caley. It is a pity that this is all we often glimpse of this three-act ballet or indeed hear of the neglected Glazunov score. It was the last great work from Petipa and all his signature forms were ably demonstrated in this coolly classical rendition.

Mauro Bigonzetti’s Cantata was the penultimate work of the first half, showcasing Polina Semionova’s and Ivan Zaiitcev’s talents and bringing a flavour of the Mediterranean to the evening. It was originally made for the now-defunct Portuguese Ballet Gulbenkian and deserved this rare outing.

This year, it was down to Don Quixote to end the first half. Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambe dazzled in wedding white instead of the more traditional red and black. Sambe’s solid physique and relatively low centre of gravity enables him to spin like a top, although Naghdi gave him more than a run for his money in a series of lightning-fast fouttées.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Ivan Vasiliev in ScheherazadePhoto Kristyna Kashvili
Ekaterina Krysanova and Ivan Vasiliev in Scheherazade
Photo Kristyna Kashvili

The interval was a welcome chance to pause for breath for the gentler but deeply passionate Scheherezade, in the version revived by Andris Liepa. It has plenty of fireworks of its own, but Ekaterina Krysanova and Ivan Vasiliev were more slow burning as they entwined limbs in their dance of death.

Another tragedy followed with a terrific version of Carmen danced by Lucia Lacarra and Josue Ullate, choreographed by Ullate’s father, Victor. Carmen surely defines a classic in that it is robust enough to yield to multiple interpretations, this pas de deux taking place in a prison. Lacarra was razor-sharp in her interpretation of the insouciant femme fatale who is almost nonchalant in accepting her inevitable end.

Ronald Savkovic’s Transparente kept the evening in southern Europe, border hopping from Spain to Portugal as Elisa Carillo Cabrera and Mikhail Kaniskin danced to a traditional fado. It is amazing that this form has never become as fashionable as flamenco and Argentinian tango with which it shares many features. Blazing in a long, red dress, Cabrera smooched her body around Kaniskin’s slick partnering.

Lucia Lacarra and Josue Ullate in CarmenPhoto Jack Devant
Lucia Lacarra and Josue Ullate in Carmen
Photo Jack Devant

We were then whisked back into familiar territory with the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake danced by Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio. Cue classic brio with yet more snappy fouttées and Cirio turning like a dervish. The Tchaikovsky suddenly burst sharply upon the ears in all his symphonic perfection.

David Dawson’s On The Nature of Daylight, danced by Anna Tsyngankova and James Stout, explores the nature of love, the dancers meeting and parting in the eternal tangle of desire and disappointment.

Alejandro Cerrudro’s Pacopepluto is slight and rather silly. Daniil Simkin threw himself into it with gusto but couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as he rolled and hopped around in a flesh-coloured costume (what there was of it) that made him look for all the world like a demented crash dummy brought to jerky life. It was the only slightly jarring note of a hugely enjoyable evening that showcased dancers at their peak; an evening drawn to a perfect close with Liudmila Konovalova and Giuseppi Picone in the Soviet version of La Bayadere.

The outstanding dancers were more than ably supported by the English National Ballet Philharmonic under the baton of maestro Valery Ovsanikov.