London Coliseum, London, UK; March 8, 2015

Charlotte Kasner

Marianela Nunez in 'Winter Dreams'. Photo © Johan Persson

Marianela Nunez in ‘Winter Dreams’.
Photo © Johan Persson

It is hard to believe that a decade has passed since Ensemble Productions produced their 80th birthday gala for Maya Plisetskaya. This evening’s tenth anniversary gala was both a celebration of great Russian works and of current Russian talent.

Ekaterina Osmokina and Giuseppe Picone’s “Sleeping Beauty” pas de deux got the evening off to a fine start. Danced cautiously rather than with all the stops out, it was nevertheless academically correct with everything placed precisely.

Benjamin Millipied’s “Amoveo” could not have provided a greater contrast; a stark pas de deux  with dancers clad in vivid blue leotards and danced to a hypnotic mezzo soprano score by Philip Glass. Unfortunately, the music held more interest than the choreography in this over-long piece.

We were back on more familiar territory with ‘Zobeide and the Golden Slave’ from “Scheherazade” danced by Ekaterina Kondourova and Igor Zelensky with great aplomb. It is all too easy for this work to spill over into melodrama but this was a finely tuned approach that concentrated on convincing passion and of course was greatly assisted by Rimsky-Korsakov’s luscious score.

The “Winter Dreams” pas de deux heralded a cooler side of Russian amour, Russian literature understanding pas excellence the agonies of thwarted desires and MacMillan made a pretty good fist of too. Again, is it is difficult to believe that it is nearly a quarter of a century since Irek Mukhemedev created the role of Vershinin. Whilst this lacked the intensity of that opening night performance, it was a treat to see The Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares dance it.

The “Romeo and Juliet” pas de deux offered was again MacMillan rather than the more intricate Nureyev version, but a gala staple, it was well presented by Roberta Marquez and Federico Bonelli.

Moving a little sideways from Russia, Finnish National Ballet’s Daria Makhateli and Kenneth Greve gave us Imre Eck’s “Swan of Tuonela”. A stark piece, it dissects the pared down Sibelius score, with the black-garbed, stick-thin Makhateli more insect than bird. She overwhelms Greve and it is clear that this relationship will not be a healthy one for the human.

Gsovsky’s “Grand Pas Classique” harks back again to the 19th-century and what a treat it is. Stunning monochrome costumes with just the right touch of glitter add a touch of perfection to the utter precision of Iana Salenko and Marian Walter from the Staatsballett BerlinExciting without being over the top, it made a perfect ending to the first half and left everyone wanting more.

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in 'Connectome'.  Photo © Bill Cooper

Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson in ‘Connectome’.
Photo © Bill Cooper

The second half opened with an excerpt from “Mayerling”. Perfectly well danced by old hands Alina Cojocaro and Johan Kobburg with the addition of Alexander Campbell, it nevertheless sat oddly with the rest of the programme as there is nothing Russian about it whatsoever. Ripped from the context of this most dense of ballets, it seemed melodramatic and, as the only piece to use a set, was rather clunky.

Unfortunately it was followed by Alistair Marriott’s “Connectome”, the only real flop of the evening. A waste of the talents of Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson, it was not helped by the design which made the dancers look as if they were wearing skimpy, vulgar underwear. Both looked rather awkward and under-rehearsed.

However, all was very soon forgiven as the diamond duo of Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov were re-united for the sublime “Nutcracker” pas de deux. Klimentova has lost one of her sparkle or technique since her official retirement, although it was odd that the ending of her solo was truncated, missing the final tours before the finale. Muntagirov, still so young, has matured into a true danseur noble and Klimentova looked about 15 years old and as safe as houses in his capable hands. Magical.

Eric Gauthier’s “Ballet 101” is a witty, virtuoso solo that never fails to raise a smile, paired with admiration for its difficulty. Alexander Parish acquits himself in rubber-limbed glory and one suspects that “position 101” is not entirely a joke.

From the Dutch National Ballet, Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov danced a solo from “Cinderella”; not an easy ballet to stage as few understand it darkness, written as it was at the beginning of a war that devastated Russia and the effects of which are still be felt today. This is not a pretty, pretty work and there is more than a hint of tragedy behind this pas de deux.

Federico Bonelli as Romeo.  Photo © Royal Opera House/Bill Cooper

Federico Bonelli as Romeo.
Photo © Royal Opera House/Bill Cooper

Ekaterina Krysanova then danced an excellent solo from Bigonzetti’s “Cinque”, not so much steam punk as ballet punk, danced to Vivaldi. Dressed in a spiky black tutu, this is the antithesis of the classical ballerina: arms flop, torso sags, then the dancer snaps into a move as sharp as a stiletto.

Oleysa Novikova and Kimin Kim of the Mariinsky Ballet brought the evening to a rousing end with that old warhorse, the “Don Quixote” pas de deux. Familiarity does not make it any less virtuosic. There have been many, many stunning performances on this stage as well as around the world, but rarely have I seen it danced at such a pace as Novikova and Kim took it. The musicians’ fingers were a blur as they barely paused for breath. When Novikova took her final curtain, she looked like a piece of porcelain, totally unruffled and breathing as easily as when she first walked on stage. Reminiscent of the young Plisetskaya, she is one to watch.

How lucky we were also to have the services of the English National Ballet Philharmonic; always a treat for the ears, tonight they were playing as if their lives depended on it under the baton of the mesmeric Valery Ovsyanikov whose fluidity was as beautiful to watch as that of the dancers.

These are not good times for Russia or for the beleaguered Coliseum, beset as it is with artistic, financial and management issues. How much more important then, that we remind ourselves of how much we owe to Russian music, art, literature and dance; and what a jewel in the crown of London theatre this venue is, one where some of us have been privileged to have seen so many great performances. It is imperative that this is no swan song for cultural relations and for this glorious venue.