London Coliseum, London, UK; July 25, 2013.     

David Mead   

English National Ballet in Petrushka (here, Shevelle Dynott & Nancy Osbaldeston).  Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

English National Ballet in Petrushka (here, Shevelle Dynott & Nancy Osbaldeston).
Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

It’s sometimes forgotten that Rudolf Nureyev’s career stretched way beyond the out and out classicism of his Russian upbringing. He was just as remarkable in some of the newer and older ballets he danced in the West. Marking 75 years since his birth and twenty since his death, this English National Ballet triple bill paid homage to one of ballet’s greatest stars.The programme opened with a documentary introducing Nureyev and the ballets. The historic footage was interesting, even if some of the comments by historians and dancers were less than startlingly illuminating. The film certainly reminded everyone just how much of a star the great man was. Even in the old black and white clips his genius shone through. An act like Nureyev is nigh on impossible to follow, of course, and so it proved here in a programme that was appropriately wide ranging in style, but unfortunately not always well performed.

The film was followed by “Petrushka,” the well-known 1911 collaboration between Fokine and Stravinsky, and in which Nureyev starred frequently as the ill-fated puppet. We could have done with some of his magic. In fact, any magic would have been welcome. A fair should be full of chaos, hustle and bustle, life and energy, none of which were much in evidence. There was a great deal of standing around and simply waiting for one’s cue to do something. Even then, individual characters and mini-stories were hard to spot. The Street Dancer cameos by the fast upcoming Shiori Kase and opposite number Jung ah Choi injected some interest, although the throng on stage almost ignored them. Things perked up when we moved inside Petrushka’s black empty cell, where Anton Lukovhin as the puppet railed effectively and with no little emotion against his situation. Elsewhere, Fernanda Oliveira was the prim, almost clockwork doll-like ballerina who had fallen for Yonah Acosta’s Moor. The costumes and sets, reproductions of Alexandre Benois’ originals and on loan from Birmingham Royal Ballet still look fabulous, especially the blackest of black demons in the sky.

English National Ballet (here l-r Esteban Berlanga & Vadim Muntagirov) in Song of a Wayfarer. Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

English National Ballet (here l-r Esteban Berlanga & Vadim Muntagirov) in Song of a Wayfarer.
Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

Highlight of the programme, choreographically and in terms of dancing, was Maurice Béjart’s “Song of the Wayfarer,” a simple, relatively short yet powerful evocation of the life of a dancer, seen here as an itinerant traveller going from place to place; from company to company. But as much as he tries, the joys of life and dance are suffocated by an inescapable air of melancholy. The ballet is a duet for a wanderer and second figure. Francisco Bosch in the Nureyev role as the former was beautifully fluid and lyrical, and showed great clarity of line. Sometimes described as the figure of death but perhaps better seen as the hand of destiny, the second character shadows the wanderer throughout. The invisible lines of energy between Fabian Reimar and Bosch crackled round the theatre. Reimar certainly left no-one in doubt who was in control, eventually, and in a beautifully poetic final image, leading his man away by the hand into the darkness. Baritone Nicholas Lester gave a fine performance of Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.”

Although well-considered in Russia, “Raymonda” has never enjoyed the success of Petipa’s other full-length ballets in the West, showings generally being restricted to divertissements or, as here, Act III. Despite some fiendish choreography, the Act never reaches the heights of the closing ballroom or wedding scenes of other classics. It is a Hungarian wedding banquet set in a gold and cream Byzantine hall. That means lots of the mazurka and czardas. If you like them, you will like this, but there are an awful lot of both, especially for the corps, who rose to everything that was asked of them. Their patterning was exemplary.

English National Ballet in Raymonda Act III (here Daria Klimentová & Vadim Muntagirov). Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

English National Ballet in Raymonda Act III (here Daria Klimentová & Vadim Muntagirov).
Photo © Arnaud Stephenson

The variations are rather more interesting and considerably trickier. The women got off to a bit of a rocky start with the occasional and quite noticeable moment of uncertainty coming from both Fernanda Oliveira and Nancy Osbaldeston. Erina Takahashi sparkled in the third, though, which she made look effortless, while Crystal Costa excelled in the contrasts of the fourth. The men’s foursome of Ken Saruhashi, Yonah Acosta, Nathan Young and James Forbat was powerful, with each double tour landed absolutely solidly and on the proverbial sixpence. The batterie was pretty hot too.Elena Glurdjidze was a glittering Raymonda. She has a backbend to die for and her series of travelling relevés at increasing speed were pinpoint precise. Dmitri Gruzdyev was a stately if rather less spectacular Jean de Brienne. Glurdjidze’s. There was little sense of love between them, but then this is all about the technique, and without the back story is perfectly understandable, although my spies at other performances tell me that Vadim Muntagirov made for a rather more dashing cavalier.