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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Polunin Walks

Will we see this again? Sergei Polunin with Tamara Rojo Photo Tristram Kenton

Friday 27 January 2012

The dance world is mystified at the resignation, with immediate effect, of the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal and most anticipated future star, Sergei Polunin.

Polunin’s story, born to a poor background in the Ukraine, his family enduring great sacrifice to secure him a better life, hints at the pressure and expectation placed upon him. Once Polunin’s talent was recognised, his life as a ballet dancer appeared to proceed without difficulty – a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet School, winner of the Prix de Lausanne, Young British Dancer of the Year, a place with the Royal Ballet and promotion to Principal Dancer at the age of 19 – the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever principal. Such quick succession is rare. For most professional dancers progression is not quite so automatic, a labour of love, dedication and drive, each knock toughening them up, increasing their appetite to succeed.

If Polunin ‘no longer wants to dance’, as has been reported, the signs were few but nevertheless suggestive. Past comments by Polunin “I would have liked to behave badly, to play football. I loved sport. But all my family were working for me to succeed. My mother had moved to Kiev to be with me. There was no chance of me failing” (The Guardian) provide an insight into his current thinking.

Every so often someone in possession of ‘God-given’ talent quits and walks away from it all. Shocking everyone, except of course the decision-maker whose ‘forbidden thought’ takes hold and grows until there appears to be no alternative but to act, even if it causes complete disarray. In this case, Polunin was scheduled to appear in the lead male role on the opening night of the Royal Ballet’s production of The Dream on Wednesday 1 February. To walk away a week before the opening night, to leave a partner in the lurch, and leave an audience baffled is upon first judgement, selfish, immature, disappointing. On reflection, it signals perhaps, the strength of feeling he has and will have been struggling with for who knows how long. The nature of the resignation, out of the blue, unexpected, ‘shocking’ Covent Garden and colleagues and with no apparent back-up plan suggests he may not have been able to carry on living a life for everyone around him, but a life which seemed at that point, to hold no meaning for him.

A dancer simply cannot dance, cannot do class, cannot look their partners in the eye, if they lose their love and dedication to the art. It is simply not possible to function as a dancer, so demanding is the art, if this is the case.

So how should great talent be nurtured? It can’t be ignored, it can’t be told to fit in, it can’t be taken for granted. It has to be celebrated, it has to be promoted and it has to be challenged, and that is what both the Royal Ballet School and the Company appear to have given him.  The problem with great talent is sometimes the obvious goal is achieved fairly predictably, even easily. What has Polunin had to fight for? Awards, a place with the Company, the highest rank, the best roles? None of it – it was all a matter of time. So really what is he fighting for? An independent life, the carefree wanderings and discoveries he may have missed as a teenager, mistakes which affect no one? All this he arguably hasn’t had a chance at – and that provides him with something to focus on, something to fight against.

The signals suggest he needs time to enjoy the rebel within, to make mistakes without the world watching. To binge in whatever form, without having the pressure of a rehearsal or performance lurking. It might take some time away from ballet to explore, to pursue other interests and just hopefully the ‘pull’ with start to re-grow, where waking up and doing a ballet class will be motivational to him again. Where that incessant need dancers have, sprouts within him again – to perfect the ‘imperfectable’.

I only hope that he is going to dance somewhere else or may, in the future, dance somewhere else. To lose his talent completely, is a set back to the progression of the art form. At least when Viviana Durante left the Royal Ballet, she continued to dance. Above all, in his own time, I hope that is what Polunin decides to do.

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