London Coliseum; July 16, 2013

Charlotte Kasner

Alexandra Timofeyeva and Mikhail Lobukhin of Les Saisons Russes in The Firebird. Photo © Valeria Komissarova

Alexandra Timofeyeva and Mikhail Lobukhin of Les Saisons Russes in The Firebird. Photo © Valeria Komissarova

Unfortunately Les Saisons Russes has been dogged by bad luck at the opening of this London run. Ilsa Liepa’s prior injury forced the cancellation of the latest work, “Cleopatra,” and last night, gremlins in the lighting box made for a sticky evening all round with an uncomfortable hiatus after the opening work followed by an impromptu twenty minute interval.

The performance got off to a tame start with “Spectre de la Rose” replacing “Cleopatra”. Yulia Makhalina danced the Karsavina role extremely well but was not matched in intensity by her partner Xander Parish who gave a rather muted interpretation. It is easy for the male role to slide into a fey impression of a flower rather than an erotic evocation of a flower-made-man in the way of dreams. The work is haunted by description of Nijinsky’s exiting jeté through the window; how lucky we are that there is no film of it. There are certainly a few men dancing now who have prodigious jumps, but if Parish is one, he refrained last night. The set is also rather fussy and naturalistic. A chair, a window and a birdcage will suffice.

“Firebird” fared better and proved to the most successful work of the evening. Much was made by Liepa of the recreation of the original sets and costumes, and for the most part this worked extremely well, especially the iridescent greens and blues of the corps de ballet. However, for some reason, the Firebird was in a tutu, which, gorgeous though it was, was far removed from Karsavina’s original. Alexandra Timofeyeva warmed up to give a spirited rendering after a rather nervous start, no doubt not helped by the extended delay. Mikhail Lobukhin was a worthy Ivan and the soloists from the Kremlin Ballet were suitably lovely Russian princesses. The set gave a proper sense of scale and colour but looked a little skimped on where painting was concerned.

Yulia Makhalina as Zobeide and Xander Parish as The Golden Slave in Shéhérazade. Photo © Kashvili

The evening ended with the old warhorse “Schéhérezade.” There is always a guarantee of enjoying the score whatever the performance and, it must be said, that this is a very dated ballet. The garish clash of colours and excess of harem pants and turbans no longer have the exotic (indeed erotic) resonance that they had in the first two decades of the 20th century although there were glimmers of the hysteria that would surround Rudolph Valentino’s fake Sheikh in the years that followed its first performances. No fault could be laid on the dancers but it smacks more of the pantomime than the harem. It was saved from totally campness by fine performances from Yulia Makhalina as a wonderful, passionate Zobeide, not least her pleading in vain for her life at the end. Xander Parish was much more comfortable as the Golden Slave and had some real opportunities to shine. He lacks the in-your-face on-stage masculinity of a Ruzhimatov and maybe needs a little more confidence to throw his all at the role to put in a memorable performance.

It is a pity that the company cannot afford an orchestra. They are not helped by having to dance to (as usual over-amplified) recordings. The opening of “Firebird” should creep up on one and make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up rather than be blasted out at disco volume.

Worth seeing for good rather than spectacular dancing and it will be interesting to see if Liepa’s promise of bringing Cleopatra over next year will materialise.