For all the criticism that the British press has thrown at the Diaghilev Festival, especially regarding authenticity of the choreography, there is no denying that the general public has been wowed by what they have seen this past week in London. The productions have been a visual feast with luxurious colourful costumes and spectacular sets, and together with the dancing, have vividly brought to life the sepia photos in old history books the past incredible era of productions that not only changed classical ballet, but also fashion, art and music.

© Kremlin Theatre Ballet
© Kremlin Theatre Ballet

Andris Liepa, the artistic director of this project has given us a rare opportunity to savour the Paris seasons of the 1900s, with three popular known productions and four reconstructions. Certainly not all the audiences of those heady days were educated in ballet disciplines—they came to see, to hear and to enjoy the spectacles that the Russians had brought. So, yes, there were moments when the choreography dragged somewhat, when the corps dancers were not in sync with each other, or the acting was a little over the top, but there was plenty to appreciate and take pleasure in during this London season.

The final programme was a triple bill which show three very different styles of dancing. Le Pavillon d’Armide is set in a 17th century French garden, complete with gurgling fountains. Here a dance divertissement shows couples dancing demurely to Nikolai Tcherepnin’s delightful score while different characters in a near non-existent scenario—(a Gobelins tapestry supposedly comes to life, but the characters had already been introduced before the tapestry dropped down). There is a magician who conjures up a green Jester, two Blackamoors complete with white-ringed eyes, over-large ruby lips and waving arms a la Petrushka , three Odalisques who proffer classical refinement and five Buffoons who leap and bounce and look like Snow-White’s dwarves. And then there is Armide, the role made famous by Anna Pavlova, now danced with great refinement and beauty by Alexandra Timofeyeva. Rinaldo, the young boy infatuated with her was proficiently performed by the Bolshoi’s Andrei Mercuriev, and Armide’s Slave, the role Nijinsky took, was here performed by Mikhail Martynuk who showed bravura leaps and turns.

Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed and danced L’Apres midi d’un Faune for the 1912 Season. It was not in expected balletic style but created as a moving frieze, performed in sandals, and with the scandalous erotic ending, it was no wonder that the ballet caused a near riot in Paris when first seen, and police were called out to quell the crowd. Tatiana Tchernobrovkina danced the Nymph, with grace and good facial expression, while Nikolai Tsiskaridze performed with technical prowess and conviction as the Faun who lies on the high rock playing his flute and munching on grapes before becoming obsessed with the Nymph.
The final ballet of the season was Bolero, set in a dark and smoky Spanish taverna. A beautiful girl is dancing on a large table and as she slowly and surely beats out the rhythms of Ravel’s evocative music, her movements mesmerize the men watching by the table’s edge. She bends backwards, stretches out her arms and stamps her heeled boots as the music builds. More men gather and one leaps up to partner her in the final moments. Ilze Liepa took the role made famous by Ida Rubenstein and while the dancing was atmospheric and absorbing, it was without tension and sensuality.