In the UK-Russia Year of Culture, it seems appropriate to celebrate Russia’s influence in the development of UK ballet. And this is no small influence – dance critic Clement Crisp describes British ballet in the programme as “vastly indebted to Russian example, Russian ideals”. Indeed, had Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert (founders of UK companies the Royal Ballet and Rambert respectively) not worked with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the dance scene in this country would be very different. There are similarly countless other leading UK dance figures who have had their careers shaped by Russian influence, including Frederick Ashton and Alicia Markova to name but a few.
The Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum on Sunday evening attempted to showcase this astonishing balletic legacy with a wide range of repertoire performed by the world’s top dancers. Although the programme’s intention to tell the "story of Russian ballet" did not come across, with some sections’ Russian relevance unclear (most notably the bedroom pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, performed by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg), the evening was an undoubted triumph.
There were too many wonderful performances to mention. At the most classical end of the spectrum, Marius Petipa’s choreography featured heavily, with pas de deux from Le Corsaire, La Bayadere and Don Quixote. Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov also gave a superb performance of the Act III duet from Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, with the former supremely elegant and the latter dynamic and exciting with firework-style leaps. It is sad to think that there is so little time left to see these two performing together, as Klimentova retires from dancing in June.
Mariinsky Ballet principal Alina Somova made a delightful Dying Swan, with beautiful jellyfish-like fluidity in her arms and a compelling interpretation of the character’s battle against impending death. Spring Waters, choreographed by Asaf Messerer for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1945, was performed exquisitely by English National Ballet dancers Elena Glurdjidze and Arionel Vargas. The pair were vibrant and exuberant, with Glurdjidze jumping fearlessly into her partner’s arms from an impressive distance.
Royal Ballet dancers Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares gave a gorgeous performance of the pas de deux from Diamonds, a ballet by former Ballets Russes member George Balanchine. On an empty stage and taken out of context, the choreography seemed to have even more meaning than I have ever noticed before, with all the details of its elegance and romance beautifully portrayed.
The evening’s highlight came in the form of Agrippa Vaganova’s Diana and Acteon pas de deux. Performed effortlessly by Mariinsky dancers Kimin Kim and Elena Yevseyeva, Kim amazed in particular with jumps that seemed to soar miles off the floor. The evening’s music was of just as high quality as the dancing, with the orchestra of English National Ballet excelling under the baton of Valery Ovsyannikov.
Whether or not The Russian Ballet Icons Gala did justice to just how much the UK dance scene owes to Russian influence, it was a stunning evening of performances, and a real tribute to ballet – and especially the many talented dancers there are – across the world today.
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