tue 05/07/2022

Nacho Duato, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Nacho Duato, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum

Nacho Duato, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum

The Mikhailovsky aim to prove their worth as an all-round dance company

Nacho Duato's Mikhailovsky company, making music visually identifiable through dance© Fernando Marcos

The Mikhailovsky Ballet closed their epic two-week Coliseum season with modern works by their director, Nacho Duato, presumably hoping to display their capabilities at all dance forms. Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness is a work in two acts first created for the Weimar Arts Festival in 1999.

Duato used Bach’s canon throughout, focusing on concertos and orchestral suites in the first part (14 pieces), and compositions for organ with further excerpts from The Art of Fugue in the second (seven pieces). The execution of the music by the Mikhailovsky orchestra under their musical director Mikhail Tatarnikov was epic, to the point that it often sounded like a recording, even when the divine soprano Svetlana Moskalenko filled every crevice of the vast auditorium.

The music was clearly the inspiration for Duato. The composer features in the work himself, acting as a connecting thread between the disparate collection of dance sequences, which all seemed to have a common purpose: to make music visually identifiable through dance. Considering there’s around 90 minutes of dance, Duato does the complex layering of Bach’s intricate genius proud, using perpetual pedestrian movement to extensive adagio partner-work.

Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, Duato Triple Bill, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London ColiseumThe dancers communicated a keen understanding of what was needed from them, specifically the men, showing a great use of weight punctuated with buoyant ballon and hazardous slides. More use of the torso would have helped to modify their innate classical aplomb, and the same goes for the head: as the heaviest part of the body it can create a riot of genuine movement.

American Ballet Theatre’s Polina Semionova starred as the Woman in the Black Dress perpetuating the torment buried deep within Bach’s creativity, and though she is a more than expansive mover the real action was often lost under a vast skirt that didn’t accentuate her powerful presence.

Iraqi architect Jaffar Chalabi’s black lacquered industrial set was a formidable presence throughout, but when it eventually uncurled to expose open scaffolding that the entire cast then entered, the staves of Bach’s greatest masterpieces at once came alive again, this time in human form.

The Sunday matinee triple bill didn’t fare as well, with only one of the three pieces achieving the same weight as Friday’s offering. Opening was Without Words, a work originally created in 1998 for the American Ballet Theatre to Schubert (adeptly performed by cellist Vadim Messerman and pianist Marianna Domnikova). The programme notes described the work for eight dancers as “existential”, which could mean everything or nothing. For me the latter option read most clearly, with the nude lycra-clad dancers performing duets that didn’t really develop. The movement felt very one-dimensional in both level and dynamic, although projected visuals of the dancers themselves did help with a sense of relation, but still weren’t enough to truly engage.

Nunc Dimittis followed, taking its name from the Arvo Pärt music used. The overall feel was far more ominous, and a religious connotation felt omnipresent. The upright issue presented itself again in the movement, contributing to an overall static feel. Most concerning was Duato’s use of classroom-style connecting steps throughout, which felt amateurish, if not lazy, by the end. The most interesting point didn't arrive until the penultimate minute, when ballerina Ekaterina Borchenko wrapped herself in hanging red sashes before being hoisted some six feet into the air as the curtain lowered; arresting, but too little too late.

The closing piece – Prelude – was something of a return to form with music by Handel, Beethoven and Britten. This work had a premise: “What Duato experienced at the start of a new period in St Petersburg, and with the Mikhailovsky.” As a female corps de ballet ran from the back of the open stage with their tulle skirts flying in the wind, you instantly realised Duato was acknowledging the history of both the city and theatre, while trying to make his presence felt as a modern dance-maker.

Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, Duato Triple Bill, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London ColiseumHighlights included the use of 19th century group formations executed in a freer fashion, with more overt use of tilt, weight and travel. The set design (Duato’s own) also supported the journey between historic and present, using quintessential woodland vistas, and Tsarist chandeliers contrasting with the Coliseum’s bare back wall free of any sumptuous illusions. When the female corps de ballet re-entered, rocking their bodies rigidly from the torso, they looked like a flock of apocalyptic swans about to attack the lone male on stage – more Black Swan than Swan Lake.

Though not all the work presented was ground-breaking, it confirmed that Duato’s presence in St Petersburg will have done no harm to the audiences or company dancers alike. For some, it will have been an overdue revelation.

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