Russian Ballet Icons Gala – Anna Pavlova

London Coliseum 4 March 2012

2012 marks the centenary of Anna Pavlova making Ivy House in London, her home. Pavlova lived at Ivy House from 1912 until her death in 1931, and it is in this setting with the surrounds of Hampstead Heath at her doorstep, that we remember some of her most enduring photographic images. According to the London Jewish Cultural Centre “she created a lively cultural haven here, away from the bustle of city life … rehearsing in her specially designed studio, training young dancers, landscaping the gardens and entertaining the most famous artistes of the day at her extraordinary soirees and garden parties”. It is this centenary that was the inspiration for a Russian Ballet Icons Gala dedicated to the spirit of Pavlova.

Ballet Gala’s can be tricky to put together, too much bravura and they look cheap, too many risky pieces and they can fall flat. Most are ultimately unsatisfying – this one providing just a taste of a smorgasbord offering of current ballet stars. A taste however, is better than nothing and the audience were most grateful for it.

Alina Somova partnered by an earth-bound David Makhateli, invited us into the hauntings of Act 2 Giselle. Somova approached the choreography with respect. Her lovely forever arms and lithe upper body compensate for her more gymnastic lower half.

Alina Cojocaru partnered by Alexandre Riabko superbly displayed the fruits of her recent creative partnership with choreographer John Neumeier in La Dame aux Camelias. An artist at the peak of her profession, she is quite simply to be admired.

Svetlana Zakharova and Andrey Merkuriev offered up a welcome change of pace with a Nacho Duato piece Cor Perdut. Zakharova was impressibly beautiful and fluid in this piece and quite outdanced Merkuriev.

Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin put on a spectacular and bravura Raymonda Pas de Deux. A supremely confident Rojo whipped off impressive double fouettes and held steely strong balances with flair. Polunin was equally supreme and it’s wonderful to watch his effect on the audience – gasping and transfixed. He is a class act, and there is so much more he most certainly has to offer, but which won’t come to fruition by being a show pony at one-off Gala’s. I do believe his heart is in his performances, that the stage is his home. Watching him is bittersweet.

Irina Dvorovenko and husband Maxim Beloserkovsky performed a car crash of a pas de deux by Jessica Lang. Choreographed around a long and oversized skirt, a more frustrating piece I can’t remember  – unfortunately the vision did not practically translate.

Elsewhere, Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino were beautiful in Roland Petit’s La Prisonniere and Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov were familiarly charming in the Manon pas de deux.

And to Ulyana Lopatkina, the words ‘class’ and ‘elegance’ fall short. We were in the presence of a unique creature. The definitive Swan of her generation, it is unforgivable that she did not dance Pavlova’s signature piece, The Dying Swan. Alas, we were denied the indulgence.

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The Nutcracker

Alina Cojocaru as the Sugar Plum Fairy photo by Bill Cooper

The Royal Ballet: 31 December 2011

The current smothering of Nutcracker productions showing in the UK has been the subject of much critique. Articles such as We Need to Talk About the Nutcrackers (“…what can be done – what must be done – to cure this endemic, epidemic Nutcracking?”) and The Economics behind ‘The Nutcracker’ are no fairy tale (“Those little mushrooms, snowflakes, clowns, dancing rats and sugar plum fairies are the chief reason the ballet can put on shows at all”) provide a flavour of the debate which pulls us back and forth between resenting this stereotypical ballet, yet thankful for the guaranteed patronage which essentially allows for more progressive programming elsewhere in dance company seasons.

Upon sitting in the Royal Opera House waiting for the curtain to rise on the Royal Ballet’s production two things occurred:

(1) The number of performances (the Royal Ballet are doing 27) allow for varied casting choices (there are 6 different Clara casts) which is mutually beneficial for both the audience and the dancers who may otherwise be hidden in the corps with rare opportunity to emerge; and

(2) There are children in the audience, and this makes The Nutcracker an immensely important occurrence. Could our ballet companies continue to attract children (and their parents) with an alternative ballet? Theoretically, yes. Realistically? I suspect not or companies (I’m sure) would shorten their Nutcracker runs.

Selfishly, I’d prefer an alternative offering. Selflessly, we’re doing it for the kids. If only The Tales of Beatrix Potter or Alice in Wonderland had a 30ft Christmas tree.

But then lets admit, we all enjoy the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince, and in this performance the Royal Ballet offer up a couple of angels on their tree in the form of Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg.

Cojocaru’s Sugar Plum is not on automatic. She approaches it as though it is a new-found object, a discovery that reveals much more than it may have previously. Fascinating to watch the way she unexpectedly emphasises and accentuates certain steps, transfixing her audience to her every move. In the pas de deux her developpe a la seconde with her back to the audience gently supported by Kobborg, is remarkable not for its height (neither grotesque nor flashy but supremely placed) but for the slow and controlled way her leg unfolds, squeezing out every moment of Tchaikovsky’s music as it makes its way up. It is in part Kobborg’s harmonious partnering of Cojocaru, which allows such luxuriousness in her movement.

A magical partnership – I would sit through 27 Nutcracker’s to see Cojocaru dance.

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