“Fashion becomes unfashionable. Style never.” Coco Chanel was the epitome of style and there was no doubting it in Yuri Possokhov’s ballet which depicts the iconic couturière, created this year for Svetlana Zakharova. There was no doubting the style in the Bolshoi star’s dancing either; long-limbed, elegant, often exuding an aloof air. Yet that sense of distance worked against it too; this is an airbrushed, skin-deep biography where the deepest insights only emerge through the Chanel quotation voiceovers that punctuate the ballet’s twelve scenes.

Svetlana Zakharova (Gabrielle Chanel) © Jack Devant
Svetlana Zakharova (Gabrielle Chanel)
© Jack Devant

Possokhov’s one-act ballet Gabrielle Chanel is the raison d’être for Modanse, the title of Zakharova’s double bill. It was premiered earlier this year at the Bolshoi and this is its UK premiere. It looks great – classic Chanel chic, monochromatic and moody – unsurprising given that the costumes were designed by the house of Chanel itself (Zakharova has seven alone). Before the curtain rises, we watch archive film footage of Chanel’s apartment. Into a low-back chair sits an elderly Gabrielle Chanel, in white tailleur with black trim, reflecting on her life. She vacates the chair and a series of episodes flash swiftly before our eyes.

<i>Gabrielle Chanel</i> © Jack Devant
Gabrielle Chanel
© Jack Devant

Pre-war Paris is evoked adroitly – a bar where Chanel meets her first lover, the playboy Étienne Balsan (Bolshoi principal Mikhail Lobukhin) – by hanging grey panels onto which video projections (Ilya Starilov) are displayed. They quickly transport us to a racecourse and the road in Puget-sur-Argens where Chanel’s English lover, Arthur “Boy” Capel, crashes his Rolls Royce and loses his life (Jacopo Tissi, tall and graceful). Possokhov has fun depicting Chanel’s involvement with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the late 1920s by reimagining productions for which she designed costumes. Vyacheslav Lopatin was a rugged-looking Serge Lifar in Apollo, although it’s dangerous to evoke this ballet without a hint of Balanchine or Stravinsky. Possokhov scored better with the wit of Le Train bleu – swimmers, a golfer and a tennis player cavorting on the French Riviera.

There’s a neat studio scene where Coco “creates” her look, removing hats, tearing off sleeves, stripping all excess to leave a chic core, but most scenes flit past in the twinkling of an eye. Oh look, she’s just chosen the fabled perfume for Chanel No.5. Next scene. There is no feel of a narrative ballet in the MacMillan mould, merely a dozen disparate scenes which collide into one another. And there’s no scent of the darker side of Chanel’s life either, such as her collaboration with Nazi occupiers. We never glimpse behind the façade. It doesn’t help that Ilya Demutsy’s score never rises above the feel of a gentle movie.

Svetlana Zakharova (Gabrielle Chanel) © Jack Devant
Svetlana Zakharova (Gabrielle Chanel)
© Jack Devant

Zakharova is everything one expects in the role; sleek, lithe, high extensions stretched to the max. Her best scene is a late solo, wearing Coco’s iconic white flared trousers, black top, pearls and sporting a cigarette, turning at the centre of an imploding spotlight. Elegant, classy, but icy where you wanted some warmth.

Mauro Bigonzetti’s 2017 piece Come un respiro was the bland hors d'oeuvre, to soporific Handel’s keyboard suites served up on the piano. With a top ticket price of nearly £400 – to include a “Meet, Greet & Selfie” opportunity – it’s disappointing that the music for both ballets was delivered via the cold medium of recordings. Surely at least a pianist could have been found for Bigonzetti’s creation?

Svetlana Zakharova in *Come un respiro) © Jack Devant
Svetlana Zakharova in *Come un respiro)
© Jack Devant

Come un respiro means “like a breath” but there was little room for serenity and sighs here in an abstract work packed with mock-Baroque style posturing and little choreographic invention. Highlights included a nice duet for two men, plus a comic one for two women which evoked a Milanese catwalk spat. But there was a lot of contorting for contortion’s sake. Helena de Medeiros’ quirky costumes were striking: black and white tutus that looked sculpted from paper, cut and unfolded like a Christmas hanging decoration worn horizontally around the waist. Far from Chanel haute couture.

**111