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For my first “Nutcracker” of the season, and ENB’s second performance in their 32-show run at the Coliseum, there were some disappointments but there was also much to love, not least Tchaikovsky’s ravishing score given its usual Christmas magic by the ENB Philharmonic under the wonderfully sympathetic baton of Gerry Cornelius. Now being rolled out for the tenth year, the sets look in need of refreshing (as do some of the Act I costumes), as they appeared washed out at times with the lighting also appearing somewhat dingy, especially in Act II. Most disappointing was a general lack of style in the dancing of the ladies in their various ensemble dances, starting with the party scene in Act I which lacked its original elegance but my eye was caught by Emily Suzuki and Jia Zhang, mostly dancing at the back of the group, who can always be relied upon to add a touch of class to whatever they do. Likewise, Alison McWhinney brought her ballerina sheen and a much-needed lyricism to the dance of the Snowflakes, with a masterclass in how to fill out a musical phrase with her gorgeous ports de bras, letting the music flow through her entire body. Hopefully the other dancers will follow her example, especially on the beautiful exiting step which needs this wonderful style to give the choreography its true magic. Indeed, it was another pair of dancers who have been in the production since its première, Adela Ramirez and James Forbat, who brought elegance and class to the waltz of the Flowers in Act II, with Ramirez exquisitely demonstrating the wonderful sliding step choreographed by Eagling which seems to have all but disappeared in the last few years. Another ‘veteran’ of the production, Junor Souza, made much of the Arabian Dance, channelling his Ali from “Le Corsaire”, with an extremely sensuous yet always elegant performance, enhanced by a very sultry group of harem ladies. Shevelle Dynott repeated his wickedly mischievous Mouse King, making much of the comedy with his highly amusing body language. The whole evening was presided over by the warm and genial Drosselmeyer of Fabian Reimair with his fatherly love for both his nephew and Clara shining through. Indeed, he and the Nutcracker of Daniel McCormick made the pas de trois, which begins Act II, look effortless as there was an almost carefree manner to the way they lifted and tossed Clara who responded with the most delighted of smiles which took on an extra rapture when the Nutcracker transformed into the fabulous Nephew of Jeffrey Cirio whose devastating charm lit up the whole theatre as well as the face of his adoring Clara, played as a child by the tiny Amelia Clark before transforming in her dream into the exquisite Katja Khaniukova. Less than a week ago, I was watching her on the same stage in the ultra-modern “Radio & Juliet” and yet tonight she was the quintessential classical ballerina displaying her heritage of the Russian school with her heady mix of delicious footwork, evident from her first exquisite run onto the stage in Act I, and beautifully languorous upper body movements and ports de bras, bringing depth of character to Clara who can sometimes be portrayed as rather two-dimensional. There was a moving soulfulness to her first pas de deux with the Nutcracker, especially with her meltingly beautiful bourrées around him as he knelt, which she repeated with even more delicacy in her delectable Sugar Plum solo in Act II. Cirio partnered her to perfection in the Act II grand pas de deux, both of them radiant and glittering in the entrée, and then showed us his beautifully clean technique in his bravura solo and the coda, never losing his youthful charm and that lovely smile. Khaniukova also shone in the coda with her trademark multiple pirouette into an immaculate set of fouetté turns. She and Cirio received rapturous applause and cheering from the capacity audience, many of whom appeared to be seeing the ballet for the first time and were no doubt as enchanted as I was by this glorious partnership.
I hasten to say that the title of this topic is the title given by the organisers for this triple bill at the Coliseum performed 7 and 8 December 2019 and not one of my own making! This programme, which I saw on 7 December 2019, is one in which the choreographers rely heavily on the beautiful fluidity of movement and pliant bodies of their classically trained dancers with varying results. It is hard to believe that the first piece on the programme, “Radio & Juliet” is already fourteen years old and only now having its UK première, such is the immediacy of the wonderfully rhythmic and intriguing choreography. As there was no programme on sale in the theatre, with only a free cast list being available, I am glad I read an online synopsis beforehand so that I was aware this was not a straightforward telling of “Romeo and Juliet” but rather flashbacks entering Juliet’s mind in no particular order, apart from the final, heartbreaking moment. Costuming was contemporary and, as the title suggests, the ballet was set to music by Radiohead. Juliet was ENB’s Katja Khaniukova in a triumphant début and Romeo was the Mariinsky’s Denis Matvienko, with very strong support from five male dancers from Slovenia’s Maribor company who represented other character such as Mercutio, Tybalt and Friar Laurence. Much use was made of a black and white film projected onto the backcloth but, as effective as it was, I felt it went on for a little too long at the beginning before the dancers appeared. However, I enjoyed the filmed ‘replay’ of the very effective choreography for the fight between the Capulets and Montagues. Another high point was the choreography for the death throes of the character I assume was Mercutio. Overall, the sometimes quirky choreography contained motifs which seemed to draw on street-dancing for the various arm movements and undulations of the mid-torso, and was quite repetitive but this repetition had a strangely hypnotic effect. In one scene, the men, all dressed in black suits with open jackets revealing their bare chests, donned surgical masks and I gradually realised this was a reference to the Capulets’ masked ball in which Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. I really liked the moment here in which the two of them are left alone at opposite sides of the stage and, in a series of blackouts, they gradually move closer to each other and finally Romeo takes off his mask. Although lit only in silhouette, it was in this beautiful moment of stillness, with the tiny Khaniukova looking up into the eyes of the much taller Matvienko that their love for each other was clearly visible in their body language, because the lighting in other scenes frustratingly obscured facial expressions at times during the various pas de deux. These were not pas de deux in the conventional ballet sense in that they were not passionate like MacMillan’s, but there was a quiet beauty to them, reflecting the fact that Juliet was playing back these lost feelings in her mind. There was also no pointework involved for Juliet but Khaniukova’s own exquisite sense of line and footwork made it seem as if she were en pointe instead of a very high demi-pointe. Juliet is costumed only in a corset and the briefest of shorts, reminiscent of Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort”, which emphasised her vulnerability, particularly when surrounded by the much taller men, but it did not stop Khaniukova showing us Juliet’s headstrong nature, particularly at the beginning, with wonderfully strong, dynamic movements which contrasted at other times with her beautiful legato quality. Poignancy is also something Khaniukova does extremely well, which made her final solo of grief over Romeo’s dead body heartbreaking as despair overcame her whole body but in a dignified, almost resigned way. “Faun” is only the second piece I have seen by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the first being the disastrous (in my opinion) “Medusa” for the Royal Ballet last season. Set to Debussy’s ravishing score with interpolations by Nitin Sawhney of what sounded like chanting, this appeared to be the confrontation of the faun and the nymph, with costumes vaguely reminiscent of those for Jerome Robbins’ version but without the beauty of movement contained in his choreography. It was energetically danced by Anastasia Stashkevich and Vaycheslav Lopatin of the Bolshoi but, for me, there was rather too much entanglement of bodies in a somewhat clumsy manner and certainly not enough choreographic invention to keep my interest for the whole fifteen minutes. From the rapturous applause and standing ovation given to the final piece by those in the centre of the Stalls, I think the final piece was the one they had really come to watch. This was a collaboration between Wayne McGregor and fashion designer Thierry Mugler, unimaginatively entitled “McGregor + Mugler” and created for ballet stars Olga Smirnova and Edward Watson to a thumping soundtrack reminiscent of music used for the catwalk at fashion shows. Mugler dressed the two dancers in flesh-coloured bodystockings with a fishnet-type design and plenty of bling placed in strategic locations, gold for Watson and silver for Smirnova, which sparkled in the very bright lighting. The bling on the lower legs, and the helmets and masks were gradually stripped away so that we could finally see Smirnova’s arabesque in all its glory, although Watson was left with a ponytail which unfortunately covered his face for the rest of the piece. However, by this time, I had had enough of this style of ‘contemporary’ choreography and longed for the much more expertly created “Radio & Juliet” which I would happily watch again.