mon 08/08/2022

Russian Ballet Icons Gala: Celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Russian Ballet Icons Gala: Celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky, London Coliseum

Russian Ballet Icons Gala: Celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky, London Coliseum

What does a starry gala say about today's valuation of yesterday's legend?

Vaslav Nijinsky: a true trendsetter © Russian Ballet Icons

What does _ _ _ _ mean to you? What does _ _ _ _ mean to us all? Questions asked every day by all kinds of people the world over. These same questions were posed last night at the London Coliseum about the doyen of 20th-century dance and choreography, Vaslav Nijinsky, at one of the Russian Ballet Icons galas that annually pack in an audience mostly made up of the Russian community London has now come to call its own.

Nijinsky (to me, as a male dancer in my thirties) is responsible for a number of things: first, changing what it meant to be a male dancer; second, defining a new way of moving; and third, introducing original music choices to dance and making them stick.  Fourteen pieces and extracts were on offer, linking key Nijinsky roles in versions that with time have strayed far from their sources, and others where music or theme connected with his time and place.

The curtain rose on Fokine’s Petrushka, a befitting choice, what with the lone misunderstood figure echoing how Nijinsky must have often felt. And English National Ballet’s Dmitri Gruzdyev did the role proud with his overt physical approach backed up by a touchingly emotional bewilderment.

Nuñez reconfirmed the electrifying period her dancing is currently experiencing

The farewell pas de deux for Masha and Vershinin from Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams followed, its Chekhov derivation a very slight connection to the theme, and the Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares executed the choreography’s expressive expansion well. Nuñez reconfirms the electrifying period her dancing is currently experiencing no matter what the night, work, or theatre she finds herself in.

Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux was somewhat initially spoilt by seeing the jewel-encrusted tutu-clad ballerina (the Bolshoi’s Evgenia Obraztsova) dashing onto the stage in the darkness to remove Vershinin’s coat from the floor! Where were the technical staff, one asks in amazement? Thankfully Obraztsova has the most divine carriage of the upper body and arms, as well as footwork that sparkles like the most precious of diamonds. Though Bolshoi principal Artem Ovcharenko’s weak partnering didn’t allow her to truly make the most of Balanchine’s precarious choreography throughout.

In Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose, one of Nijinsky's most subtly pioneering roles, former Royal Ballet principal Ivan Putrov danced the legendary fleur acceptably, though he took a little too long to realise the physical exuberance of the role for me. These issues didn’t seem to faze English National Ballet's Elena Glurdjidze though – whose interpretation of the woman besotted with the rose’s fragrance felt authentic from start to finish.

Jeux trioThe second half proffered two points of interest – the first being Wayne Eagling’s (also the evening’s artistic director) interpretation of Nijinsky’s Jeux, his final creation for English National Ballet before he left its directorship last year.

The 1913 poème dansé was a pioneering work, and Eagling’s version features facets I imagine were present in the original. The high-fashion aesthetic of the original tennis party, first realised by Coco Chanel, was elegantly reworked by Wizzy Shawyer. (Pictured right, Dmitri Gruzdyev, Fernanda Oliveira, Elena Glurdjidze) And the dance language itself – which trailblazed the significance of pictorial image within movement phrasing - was a Nijinsky trait that Eagling picked up and ran with.

The night’s crowdpleaser came in the form of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux. The choreography is so chic and fresh in style it needs little help to make it soar – but if the dancers can parallel its understated glamour then a treat is most definitely in store. The Royal Danish Ballet’s J’Aime Crandall and Alban Lendorf did the necessary parallel and more – she demonstrating a physical strength that would take a hurricane to unsteady, he advocating that the Bournonville schooling is still one of the best in the world, and that the dynamic élan continues to evolve post graduation.

The gala's production values were too low for me throughout, and cloud the overall experience. Did the event do Nijinsky justice? Initially I thought, no... but on reflection, perhaps yes (in a roundabout way).


No mention of Watson and Benjamin in Qualia? For me, one of the (surprising) highlights of the evening. I also thought Putrov was outstanding, despite a rather offputtingly effeminate costume. And totally agree with you about Soares and Nunez - I found them mesmerising.

I must admit, I rather agree with Helen. When I saw the schedule, I went "Ugh. Qualia", but Watson and Benjamin were so intense and so committed in it that I was quite converted. I think I've seen Putrov dance Spectre better in the past, though.

I agree production qualities so low that one instantly recognises it is a Russian Ballet Icons Gala. The pre- event leaflet gave a hint of amateur when it announced performances included Anna Pavlova’s Petrushka, , Spectre and Faun !! Do Royal Ballet dancers really need to accept appearances on these low budget Galas which do nothing to enhance the Coliseum reputation for quality dance. Coutts Bank would be wise to avoid sponsorship of such poor productions. Audiences should demand a refund when advertised stars do not turn up.

Personally I really enjoyed Putrov's performance, including the costume (especially the new take on the headpiece). I think that he should be given more recognition for the independent work he has been pursuing since leaving the Royal (which has been an exciting body of work to follow), so it was lovely to be able to see him perform this piece again. I hope that negative remarks like the one in this review do not deter him from continuing to develop his own programmes that are for me an exciting new avenue in the dance world, and one that I think is sorely needed.

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