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I was delighted to attend the first two days of the Ballet Festival (Ballet UA) by the Ukrainian National Ballet in their beautiful home in Kyiv - the National Opera House of Ukraine - for my first trip outside of England for over a year. The first evening, 21 October, was devoted to two recent ballets for the company. As it was a little difficult to negotiate the opera house’s website, I am not sure if the first of these, “Eyes Wide Closed” was its première. I take it that the translation was meant to be “Eyes Wide Shut” in reference to Stanley Kubrick’s film. It was choreographed by Viktor Ishchuk, a dancer with the company and one of the two male dancers appearing in it, the other being Serhiy Kryvokon. Amongst the featured females were Natalia Matsak and Yulia Moskalenko who charmed me so much when she appeared in Ivan Putrov’s gala in London last month. The piece was performed to a selection of works by Bach, Rachmaninov and Chopin alternately played by the fabulous Gabriella Lina Magallas on piano and a string quartet, presumably from the resident orchestra, placed on opposite sides of the stage. The female dancers were dressed in a rendition of 18th century undergarments – corsets and panniered skirts – with the men in conventional tights and shirts. The piece opened with everyone dancing in silhouette, like the artwork so favoured in the 18thth century, which was very effective. Later on, the ladies dispensed with their skirts and danced in a variation on frilly knickers. The choreography itself was very musical albeit not particularly inventive but it was a joy to see such beautifully trained dancers who appeared to be thoroughly enjoying dancing it. The second piece premièred in June 2021 and was entitled simply “Dante”. By Yaroslav Ivanenko, formerly a member of the company and now choreographer for the ballet company in Kiel, this was a telling of Dante’s search for his beloved Beatrice in the underworld. Set to a score comprising works by Ezio Bosso, Dvorak and Wagner, this was a thrilling piece with a lot of virtuoso dancing, not least from Vitaly Netrunenko. Without having read the programme note, I assumed he was the Devil, such was his charismatic and forceful dancing, but apparently he was Virgil, Dante’s constant companion during his search. The corps de ballet were put to admirable use in the first scenes, with their very energetic dancing suggesting to me that they were the furies, characters beloved of 18th century ballets who performed all the acrobatic steps in keeping with their other-worldly status. Sets, costumes and lighting were all very effective, although I think the use of the chute (rather like the emergency chute on an aeroplane) for the entrance of the corps de ballet into the underworld was used perhaps in one too many scenes. The piece culminated in a very moving pas de deux for Dante (Nikita Sukhorukov) and Beatrice (Tatiana Lyozova) to Wagner’s “Liebestod” before they ascended into heaven. All in all, this was a very enjoyable evening and a great introduction to this talented company. The second evening (22 October) was rather like a national Emerging Dancer competition, with couples from all the major companies in Ukraine performing their party pieces. Katja Khaniukova and Aitor Arrieta from English National Ballet were the guest artists providing ‘interludes’ from the competition, ending the first half and then the whole evening. Due to her commitments in London, Khaniukova and Arrieta were unable to perform in the gala performance the following evening with other guest artists from the Paris Opéra and Kiel, among others. Of the competing couples, in the first half I very much enjoyed Maria Shupilova and Pavel Zurnadzhi from Kyiv in a sparkling performance of the “Flames of Paris” pas de deux and a particularly charming and classy Anastasia Gurska and Andriy Havryishkiv, also from Kyiv, in a delightful performance of the “Talisman” pas de deux. In the second half, Alexei Knyazkov and Christina Kadashevich from Kharkiv raised the temperature in the auditorium with an incredibly steamy performance of the Crassus and Aegena pas de deux from “Spartacus”. He looked every inch the swaggering, arrogant Roman, and she used her long legs particularly seductively, with each gravity-defying lift or clinch eliciting spontaneous applause from the audience who were so enamoured of this couple that the applause continued long after they left the stage. I later discovered that they had been awarded the pas de deux prize. However, my highlight was an enchanting performance of the “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux by the effervescent Moskalenko and Stanislav Olshansky from Kyiv which ended the competition segment of the programme. After all these Russian gala favourites, it was like a breath of fresh air to see Khaniukova and Arrieta in the Act I bedroom pas de deux from MacMillan’s “Manon”, possibly the first time it has been seen live in Kyiv. I was lucky enough to see Arrieta as Des Grieux three times during English National Ballet’s 2018/2019 season and each time I was extremely moved not only by the beauty of his dancing but also by his passionate characterisation which intensified at each performance. For Khaniukova, this was her début as Manon, having previously danced the Mistress, and she proved that this is a role she was born to dance with her exquisite footwork, beautiful use of épaulement and the utter charm of her characterisation. With their flawless techniques and ability to totally inhabit characters, even in an excerpt, Arrieta and Khaniukova are perfectly matched, and there was a palpable chemistry between them. Their obvious joy gave the pas de deux an added rapturousness, with Arrieta making Khaniukova look as light as air in the thrilling lifts, and the final slide had the audience applauding and cheering before the music had finished, making me so glad that Khaniukova had chosen to present this gorgeous pas de deux in her home city. To close the evening, Khaniukova and Arrieta danced the lovely pas de deux which follows the pas de trois in Act II of Anna-Marie Holmes’s staging of “Le Corsaire”. This was a beautifully polished performance, danced with such tenderness that it took my breath away multiple times and I would love to see them dance the full ballet together (as I would “Manon”!). Again, the audience gave them a huge and prolonged ovation at the end and I think we all went home with smiles on our faces and our hearts singing after witnessing such a wealth of beautiful dancing. I was only sorry that I could not stay to see the gala the following evening but delighted to have been there for two very entertaining performances.
I’m sharing information about this interesting gala taking place on 23 October 2021 in a venue new to me, the Lanterns Studio Theatre in London E14. It is curated by dancer Henry Dowden, of English National Ballet, and is the first of what he hopes will be a series of performances mixing the old with the new. For those who missed Francesco Gabriele Frola’s spectacular Acteon in Ivan Putrov’s gala last week, this is the chance to see him in another gala favourite, the pas de deux from “Don Quixote”, partnering his ENB colleague, Katja Khaniukova, whose performance of this at the 2017 Emerging Dancer Awards, with the 2016 winner Cesar Corrales, brought the house down. ENB’s Jeffrey Cirio and his sister Lia (principal with Boston Ballet) have an experimental group called the Cirio Collective which comes together each summer in the USA to produce new work but I believe this is the first time his choreography will be seen in the UK. He has created a solo to music by Chopin which will be played live by Viktor Erik Emanuel. Luke Ahmet will dance a solo from “Communion” in tribute to the late Robert Cohan, and Constance Devernay and Barnaby Rook Bishop will perform the Act II pas de deux from David Dawson's "Swan Lake". The evening will also feature new choreography from Daniel Davidson, Kennedy Muntanga Ft, Olivia Grassot and Hannah Rudd. Seating is unreserved but we are assured that there are excellent sightlines from all seats (priced at £45, or £60 for the front row). I hope people will consider supporting this enterprising new venture. Unfortunately I have been unable to upload on here the flyer I received but I believe it can be found by logging onto the ticket website. Tickets are available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/BalletNights and I found the booking process very straightforward.
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.