Thrills, excitement and multicoloured costumes were on the menu both inside and outside the London Coliseum this past Sunday. Chinese New Year, with waving dragon, prancing lion, acrobats and dancers, was being celebrated to an estimated 25,000 visitors around Trafalgar Square, while around the corner in the stately theatre built at the turn of the 20th century, a grand array of international ballet dancers were offering sumptuous snippets of traditional famous classical works interspersed with glimpses of thought-provoking and entertaining contemporary works.

Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov in Grand Pas Classique
© Kristyna Kashvili

Conceived by Olga Balakleets, the 15th annual Ballet Icons Gala brings together top dancers from around the world to celebrate Russian classical ballet and culture. This year, 26 dancers performed to an audience made up mainly of flamboyant Russians whose sparkling sequins and ruffles competed with the tutus and tiaras on stage. The English National Ballet Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductor Valery Ovsyanikov, played with passion and aplomb and kept the dancers happy – no mean task, when rehearsal time is so short and dancers’ demands are varied.

The evening opened with pizazz and precision as Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov (Mariinsky) performing Gsovsky’s showy Grand Pas Classique, showing off their strong assured technique. This was followed by Diamonds (from Balanchine’s Jewels), performed by the Bolshoi’s Alyona Kovalyova and Mariinsky principal, Xander Parish, She offered a steady, accurate but serious performance, lacking facial sparkle. British born Parish is blessed with a danceur’s physique – stately presence, long lean legs and eloquent arms – though he often seemed too short for his en-pointe ballerina, and there were some awkward holds. However, his smiles won over the audience.

Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish in Diamonds
© Kristyna Kashvili

Among the pure classical works was the pas de deux from Act 2 of Giselle, performed with gentle intensity and good balances by the Royal Ballet’s Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé. In sharp contrast was the Grand Pas from Don Quixote in which American dancer, Julian MacKay, and Italian ballerina Nicoletta Manni set the stage on fire, attacking this popular gala fare with confident bravura leaps and turns, showing us how much fun they were having. Winning over the audience, as she usually does, was the delightful Spanish ballerina Lucia Lacarra, whose seemingly boneless body formed and wrapped itself around elegant Canadian, Matthew Golding. He solicitously supported her in Finding Light, (choreographer Edwaard Liang) and they received loud bravos at their bows.

Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé in Giselle
© Kristyna Kashvili

Also among the contemporary works was a sneak preview of Dutch National Ballet’s forthcoming ballet Frida. Choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, it is based on the life of Frida Kahlo and in this extract Maia Makhateli, in gorgeous orange and white flowing dress, yellow roses in her hair, teased and taunted her husband,(James Stout) over their stormy relationship with flirtatious and passionate dancing.

Taunting and flaunting is what Carmen is renowned for, though in the extract from Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite, Maria Alexandrova’s Carmen was more muted than expected, more slinky than sensual, attracting her lover’s attentions with teasing rather than sexy movements. Vladislav Lantratov’s tautly performed Don José but he too needed to express more desire. However it was wonderful to welcome back the Bolshoi’s golden couple after their long absence due to injuries.

Inner turmoil is the subject of Jason Kittelberger’s Once with which he danced with his fiancée, the Royal Ballet’s Natalia Osipova. It’s all about emotions of misunderstandings, of togetherness, reconnecting, loneliness and Osipova, as always, poured everything into her dancing, one moment fluid, the next manic.

Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello from La Scala effectively performed Preljocaj’s Le Parc where the woman is seductive from the start. She finally claims her lover with that famous kiss that sees them, lips locked, swirling faster and faster, her arms around his neck, with legs flying at 45°.

Luisa Ieluzzi and Giuseppe Picone in Elegie
© Kristyna Kashvili

Akram Khan’s Dust, set in World War 1, was a reminder of the horrors soldiers suffered and of the women who seek and try to mend them, and Erina Takahashi and James Streeter of English National Ballet gave strong emotional performances.

Making its world premiere Elegie, was a gentle lyrical tribute to the legendary Bolshoi couple Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova. Created by Guiseppe Picone, he and Luisa Ieluzzi danced it with feeling and inner passion.

The classical highlight was a technically beautiful performance by Bolshoi principals Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko, who performed the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty with composure, aristocratic bearing and Fabergé daintiness – no fancy tricks, just expressing the purity of the ballet’s heritage.

And of course the final extract was guaranteed to explode like Chinese crackers with its two popular gala performers, Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin from Staatsballett Berlin. In their duet from Le Corsaire, his leaps and unique twists and turns made the audience roar for more, while her double pirouettes, balances, whizzing piqué turns made sparks fly. The cheering went on for many minutes.