Following in the footsteps of the groundbreaking Sylvie Guillem, some of today’s star ballet dancers are exploring creative endeavours of their own alongside already busy schedules of season performances with their home company and guest appearances around the world. Only dancers of the highest calibre have the freedom and, well, the power to commission programmes which are sure to attract international dance lovers to sold out first class venues around the world.

Denis Rodkin, Svetlana Zakharova and Mikhail Lobhukin in <i>Francesca da Rimini</i> © Roberto Ricci
Denis Rodkin, Svetlana Zakharova and Mikhail Lobhukin in Francesca da Rimini
© Roberto Ricci

The artistic enterprise – in which the dancer, doubling as curator – has the luxury of devising his/her own evening has proved successful, for some less than others. Regardless of the outcome, they’re a highlight in my cultural calendar, not just because they offer the opportunity to indulge in the sheer pleasure of watching accomplished artists who excel at their craft, but also because I get to see them dance works they have chosen for themselves. The process is indicative of (relative) shifts in the ballet world, a world where the relationship between director, choreographer and performer is evolving. Dancers aspiring to develop themselves artistically move from one company or independent project to another, attracted by artists who will challenge them physically, mentally and emotionally. They perform, but they also create and direct dance. In other words, they take ownership.

Svetlana Zakharova chose love as the thread for her project Amore, which brings together three very distinct choreographic voices.

Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini makes for a dramatic opening. Set to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem of the same title, the work is based on the Fifth Canto of Dante’s Inferno, and the love triangle between Giovanni Malatesta, an unattractive gentleman, his wife, Francesca and his younger, attractive brother, Paolo. In Dante’s Inferno, Francesca falls in love with Paolo, who visits her on her wedding day, and who she (who has never met her fiancé) mistakes for Giovanni. Just like in the poem, Possokhov stages a day in the married couple life's when Paolo and Francesca give in to their mutual passion for each other.

Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin in <i>Francesca da Rimini</i> © Alain Hanel
Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin in Francesca da Rimini
© Alain Hanel
Unbeknown to them, Giovanni watches their embrace and, driven by anger, furiously kills them both. Adultery (in Dante’s poem) sees the lovers sucked down to the Circle of the Lustful down in Hell. However, in Possokhov’s tragedy the lovers lay lifeless downstage, and it is Giovanni who is pulled offstage. 

It's a lot of drama to develop in only 25 minutes, and to a symphonic poem that already gradually builds up to its own apocalyptic finale like an ocean of surging waves in an impending storm. With that in mind, Possokhov might have been right to set the mood with hanging statues – figures and body parts inhabiting Inferno  – (design: Maria Tregubova) and to feature three Guardians of the Inferno (inspired by Rodin’s sculpted figures on his colossal Porte de l’Enfer) to set the mood. He also casts five Court Ladies. Dressed in sublime, long red dresses that swirl around the dancers as they spiral articulate limbs around torsos of steel, the gorgeous women of the Bolshoi embody Francesca’s emotions, or maybe her senses throughout, but it took me a while to understand that. The aesthetics, the complex choreography, the weight of the artistic references and the cataclysmic score mean it’s all very busy on stage. As Francesca and Paulo, Zakharova and Denis Rodkin are stunning and technically impeccable in the pivotal pas de deux at the heart of the piece, set by Possokhov with finesse to the score’s most tender motif. As Giovanni, Mikhail Lobukin impresses. But it’s a lot of complex ingredients to throw into an evening opener, which feels like the closing act of an evening long tragedy and I fear I missed many layers of the work which I did not have the time (or space) to consider. 

Patrick de Bana and Svetlana Zakharova in <i>Rain before it Falls</i> © Roberto Ricci
Patrick de Bana and Svetlana Zakharova in Rain before it Falls
© Roberto Ricci

By contrast, I was enthralled by Patrick de Bana’s Rain Before it Falls, a trio for Zakharova, de Bana himself and Denis Savin. A delicate, reflective dance of intense beauty, it’s firmly rooted in the European (continental) style from which de Bana originates. It’s somewhat abstract, which leaves room for the leading lady to develop her own story as she interacts with the space, de Bana (who is a magnificent dancer himself and a rock of a partner), Savin and us, the audience. I was washed over by my own feelings, provoked by the dance, but given the room, musically, emotionally, to build up inside of me, before being so perfectly mirrored by the elegant, light yet earthy balance of the Zakharova—de Bana partnership, which felt like the meeting of two very distinct movers who have profound respect for each other’s dancing.

<i>Strokes through the Tail</i> © Batyr Annadurdyev
Strokes through the Tail
© Batyr Annadurdyev

Marguerite Doulon’s Strokes Through the Tails (set to Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor) closes the evening with lighthearted joy. The work is intelligent, polished yet playful, save for a few ‘please laugh here’ moments which I really could have done without, so fresh and sweet Strokes already is. 

Amore brings outstanding dancers to London in diverse dances by international choreographers whose work and stylistic roots we seldom get to see in London. It’s challenging, and refreshing!