wed 17/07/2024

Diaghilev Festival Gala, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Diaghilev Festival Gala, London Coliseum

Diaghilev Festival Gala, London Coliseum

First-rate work, high energy and musical glories from a little-known Moscow company

Artem Yachmennikov as the Golden Slave in 'Scheherazade'

Bakst’s harem drapes and Roerich’s smoking, steaming Polovtsian camp may not have had the most lavish of recreations. But the rest of this homage to Diaghilev shone with an exuberance and even a precision one would not have thought possible from previous seasons of what had once seemed like Andris Liepa’s Ballets Russes vanity project.

Mariinsky star of long standing Yulia Makhalina sprinkled gala stardust, the corps of the revelatory Natalia Sats Children’s Theatre re-enacted Fokine’s routines with theatrical flair and that energy levels were so high throughout had everything to do with the superlative work of company conductor Alevtina Ioffe (pictured below) – the real star of the visit along with the amazingly good house orchestra, as warm audience cheers and applause confirmed.

The choreographic execution was never about technique, though there's still cause to wonder at the extensions and other sinuosities of the ever-compelling Makhalina, who gave a gala bonus with a “Dying Swan” not far off that of her junior Ulyana Lopatkina’s for poetry and pointe. As one balletomane I met declared, “Scheherazade is tosh, but they make it look like Shakespeare”. Which is to say that the harem naughtiness, so very 1910, was even a bit sexy for once: you could believe that handsome Artem Yachmennikov’s Golden Slave had a devoted crush on Makhalina’s utterly commanding dominatrix Zobeide.

Alevtina IoffeFokine’s reading of the Rimsky-Korsakov score is mostly perverse, though he knew better than to set the opening “Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” to dance: only Ioffe’s interpretation, as compelling as any I’ve ever heard in the concert hall and glowingly executed by her fabulous orchestra, could have held the attention so while the lurid drop-curtain remained down.

It’s in the big company dances, though, that Fokine excels, and the Sats corps executed them way beyond anything I’d thought possible in the fussy new choreography for The Golden Cockerel on Wednesday. Yes, they really did have the numbers and the costumes to carry off the final “orgy” – a perfect realization of Korsakov’s many strands which gave the cue to Stravinsky for what Fokine could do in The Firebird’s Infernal Dance. Fokine’s Polovtsian scenes and dances for Prince Igor have become definitive, and what fun it was to see the diminutive Maxim Pavlov give his all and flash his teeth as furry-hatted chief tribesman. The Sats Theatre’s full-bodied chorus were in the side boxes for their Polovtsian vocalizations, a little loud for the hard-working orchestra at times, but again the real thing. If the so-called “choreography” for Novaya Opera's dismally staged Prince Igor earlier this year was the worst I’ve ever seen, this was absolutely the best.

Golden Cockerel in Diaghilev galaWe also got the whole of the (short) final act of The Golden Cockerel (pictured left by Elena Lapina), rather charmingly prefaced by Liepa taking us through the denouement like the true man of the theatre he is. I was happy to encounter again five of the six excellent singers I’d seen on Wednesday – the roles had been double, or treble, cast – above all to get the extraordinary mix of full and falsetto high notes from Ruslan Yudin’s tenor altino Astrologer. That he was supposed to be Diaghilev the presenter-impresario could have escaped no-one this time as Wednesday’s ultimate black wall behind the Goncharova recreations was replaced with a full photo of the great man, against which Makhalina danced her swansong, actually a 1905 Fokine creation for Pavlova in St Petersburg.

Polovtsian Dances in Diaghilev FestivalLiepa was evidently sincere in dedicating the whole evening to Diaghilev's genius (though historical revisionist turned Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky will no doubt tell us that the great man, like Tchaikovsky, was too good to be gay). Ultimately there were two other overwhelming dominant presences: Rimsky-Korsakov, without whom even Borodin’s dances (pictured by Elena Lapina) would not glitter as they do, and Ioffe, who never put a foot wrong, dared much with her excellent players and is clearly up there with Susanna Mälkki as a conductor fit to stand with the best. If the west doesn’t poach her, may she come back with the company and – special request – can they piece together Prokofiev’s Chout with the designs of Goncharova’s almost as talented partner Mikhail Larionov for the next visit?

That energy levels were so high throughout had everything to do with the superlative work of company conductor Alevtina Ioffe


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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