Polina Semionova’s career started with an invitation by at the time artistic director of the Berlin State Ballet, Vladimir Malakhov, to join the company as a principal right after her graduation at the young age of 18. Berlin has since played an important role for her and she for the State Ballet's audience. With the same elegance and taste that have characterised her performances, she has now curated a gala, gathering friends, family and other people she enjoyed working with throughout her career. The stellar casting she assembled brought well-deserved stadium cheers throughout and a standing ovation at the end.

Polina Semionova and Friedemann Vogel © Yan Revazov
Polina Semionova and Friedemann Vogel
© Yan Revazov

The odd motion of stepping from a sunny and breezy late afternoon into the gilded opera house and its world of corsairs, ghosts and princesses was eased by a very radiant hostess, Polina Semionova, in a glittery tutu. As if we were intimate friends, she greeted us from in front of the curtains, introducing the programme and her world-renowned guests. Then with the same ease with which she had come out from behind the curtains, she disappeared for the first number. She emerged as an exquisite and bubbly Medora in Le Corsaire, partnered by a fierce Daniel Camargo (Dutch National Ballet) who dazzled with the height of his jumps, the directness of his manège and a 540 jump – a kind of barrel turn jump – leaving the audience cheering. This was followed by an amazing Friedemann Vogel in a solo work, Mopey, by Marco Goecke, which used variations of light and shadow on the dancer’s body and  which featured odd entrances and exits. Vogel’s interpretation of this funny quirky yet sinister work was magnificently eloquent. The atmosphere turned even more sombre as a delicate Giselle, Danielle Muir, and an elegant yet remorseful Albrecht, Konstantin Lorenz (both Berlin State Ballet) initiated a superbly ethereal pas de deux. The erotically charged Intimate Distance by Jiří Bubeniček followed, with Ksenia Ovsyanick (Berlin State Ballet) and Dmitry Semionov (Dortmund Ballet and Semionova’s brother) beautifully dissecting a couple’s journey between love and hate. Maria Kochetkova in the Sleeping Beauty was a graceful and happily newlywed Aurora, partnered by a distinguished Carlo di Lanno (both San Francisco Ballet). This section triumphed with the grandiose interpretation of Kenneth MacMillan’s L’histoire de Manon by Semionova and Friedmann. Clearly enjoying themselves, the duo simply sparkled. With the perfect fusion of technique and expression, they so convincingly depicted Manon and Des Grieux happily and carelessly in love.

The second section opened with All Long Dem Day by Goecke superbly interpreted by the students of the Berlin State Ballet School, where since 2013 Semionova is also a professor. They excelled in Goecke’s quirky language. The tension that the students managed to create left the house literally roaring. It is a bright future before us as far as young talents are concerned. This was followed by Nacho Duato’s Without Words interpreted by Semionova and Ivan Zaytsev (Mikhailovsky theatre) in tight, skin coloured costumes that contoured each muscle. Still clearly inspired by Jiří Kylián’s movement language, it depicts a couple merging into one with precise yet unusual lifts. Svetlana Gileva (Dresden Semper Ballet) and Semionov gave a wonderful interpretation of the pas de deux from Swan Lake with a delicate Gileva as the swan princess and Semionov as a very elegant prince. In the solo Degunino by Marco Morau, Kochetkova demonstrated her extreme plasticity. On a very dimly lit stage, she barely visible, the work proposes images of a shambling body and plays with an almost prosthetic use of pointe shoes that at times become crouches. This was followed by Mauro Bigonzetti’s duet, Cantata, splendidly executed again by Semionova and Zaytesv. Cantata staged a barefoot couple violently in love and fluidly transitioning from one wild dynamic lift to the next. As a last surprise, Semionova executed the sequence she interprets in the famous Herbert Groenemeyer’s video, Demo (Letzter Tag), that became a YouTube hit years ago. Shot before the opera's closure for renovation, it is only fit to see it live on stage in the refurbished building.

Polina Semionova and Ivan Zaytsev © Yan Revazov
Polina Semionova and Ivan Zaytsev
© Yan Revazov

Polina & Friends is a wonderful programme – at the end, the audience was reluctant to leave the auditorium. Balanced in its choices of classical and contemporary works, it surely allowed to showcase Semionova’s skills in both abstract and less abstract works. I must admit; I have been sceptical. I am not usually a fan of gala-performances but this one won me over. These interprets managed to cast a spell on me for the short length of their extracts so that moving to the next felt almost painful. I did not want them to go. But what followed turned out to be yet another wonderful interpretation. My favourite? Surely, Semionova and Vogel in Manon closely followed by the students.

*****