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Russian Icons Gala ...

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I was asked to write a brief review for an international publication on this event. I will share my scribblings (before they are edited) here.




“People like eccentrics, “ Vaslav Nijinsky cited in his diary, The Russian danseur and choreographer of Polish descent oft regarded as the first great male dancer of the 20th century continued: “Therefore they will leave me alone, saying that I am a mad clown.” I fear Nijinsky has not entirely been left to rest in peace. His ‘divine inspiration’ (as was quoted in a sonorous introduction last night), both plucked and pampered by Diaghilev, is still sparking. People, such as those at ‘Russian Ballet Icons’ who devised this well run gala at the Coliseum on Sunday, 10th March 2013, continue to celebrate and propel the spirit of Nijinsky. They do so as much to hail his quoted virtuosity as to champion the reputed depth and intensity of his characterizations. This particular programme, overseen by Wayne Eagling, was ably underscored by the Orchestra of the English National Ballet under the sensitive baton of Valery Ovsyanikov. Refreshingly it appears eccentricity is still applauded in our own balletic world; one even more homogenized (in terms of dance styles if not, perhaps, Bolshoi politic) than Nijinsky might have known even at the point of his death in 1950.


As with any gala this was a combination of many parts, (in this instance 14). As is commonly true in any living entity these were of understandably variable quality. The highs, however, were definitely notable. Certain interpreters were able to travel well beyond the particular technical demands proffered . They were able to share by virtue of their own persona opportunities that enabled their audience to ‘see the music; hear the dance’; a dictum so cherished by George Balanchine, himself a Mariinsky contemporary of Nijinsky. Indeed, in that particular master’s exquisite DIAMONDS PAS DE DEUX from JEWELS, the always deft Bolshoi principal Evegnia Obraztsova and the newly promoted Artem Ovcharenko brought the conquest of Diana to enticingly vivid life. So too did the wondrous Albin Lendorf (of the Royal Danish Ballet) in Balanchine’s TCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX. All of these artists reached beyond their hastily assembled footlights in a unique fashion, with a special perfume. Each enveloped dramatic magic through the music in much the same fashion as one can now only imagine the evening’s chosen celebrant must have done in the face of his critics. Bravi.


Of the pieces performed that were directly associated with Niijinsky himself (PETRUSHKA, LE SPECTRE DE LA ROSE, JEUX (Nijinsky’s choreography having been reconstructed by Mr. Eagling from photographs and reports) and SCHEHERAZADE), it was for me the hastily abstracted exerpt from LES SYLPHIDES that stood out if only for the majestic envelopment of Mariana Ryzhkina’s determinedly buoyant bouree. Maria Grazia Garofolui’s NARCISSUS employed Debussy’s haunting score as used by Nijinsky to scale his own brave choreographic heights in one of his two masterworks, L'APRÈS-MIDI D'UN FAUNE. Sadly the replacement was not a patch on the original's take on these suave notes.. One wonders why the latter was eschewed, especially in light of the occasion and the fact that the piece was so recently in the English National Ballet’s repertory. Of those segments included from more modern repertories including pas de deux from the likes of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Kim Brandstrup and John Neumeier (who himself has created a ballet dedicated to Nijinsky from which no segment was offered), it was the Royal Ballet’s resident artist, Wayne McGregor’s incisive QUALIA that achieved the greatest emotional punch for the audience present. This was made most notable via the dedicated sinew of its original interpreters, Royal Ballet principals Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson.


One thing that made this performance certainly stand out from where I was sitting was the behaviour of the surrounding audience. Rarely have I seen so much ‘bling’ on quite so many treasured chests nor I have been aware of quite such a halo of mobile light shining forth throughout. This was very much a ‘White Night’. In the truest sense it was brilliant. One heavily laden woman a few yards from me actually answered her mobile when it rang during the PAS DE DEUX from RUSHES (enticingly realised by the dramatic dream that is Alina Cojocaru). This particular lady continued to hold a conversation in Russian throughout the entirety of that piece. It was, in fact, difficult NOT to hear her. Sadly I was not myself able to hear her make any mention of the name of ‘Nijinsky’. I promise you I was listening. It was, in fact, impossible NOT to. Her projection was admirable. It was so clear as to easily over scale the Prokoviev. (Perhaps she was an instructor in voice for some Russian dramatic academy. If so, master-classes must immediately be arranged with the entire British registry of the Conference of Drama Schools.) Near the end of that particular pas de deux (or was it in this instance a pas de trois?) one noted critic crossed the aisle and actually shred the phone from without this particular lady's bejewelled hand. Thus it was that the animation of her chat was terminated. This not only led to an almighty squawk but to a more dedicated assurance on behalf of the notable Coliseum house staff present. They must be praised. Thereafter they doggedly chased up and down the aisle with scolding torches in tow. Certainly they had much to illuminate, the bling acting much like a screen reflecting against the stage's sun. We now ALL walked away with a tan. I wondered what Nijinsky himself might have made of such movement. Another ballet perhaps? Who knows it might well have inspired, in concert, a future Jerome Robbins. Certainly from the evidence shown ON the Coliseum stage yesterday evening (for those who cared to watch that is) there was much that demanded our attention and, happily, ensured that there will be even more to mine in the future.

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