National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan; January 4, 2014

David Mead

Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino from the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Ben Stevenson’s 'Three Preludes'. Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino from the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Ben Stevenson’s ‘Three Preludes’.
Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Apart from the fact it’s always filled with excellent dance by top principal dancers, the most enjoyable thing about Taipei’s ballet galas is that among the usual glittering gala showpieces organiser Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨) always manages to include a number of lesser known and modern pieces.

Leading the way this year were Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino from Munich’s Bayerisches Staatsballett. They were a delight in Ben Stevenson’s sublime “Three Preludes”, made way back in 1969. Danced to three Rachmaninov Preludes (in B Minor, Opus. 32, no.10; in F Sharp Minor, Opus 23, no.1; and in A Major, Opus 32, no.9), each part has its own mood. As with all the best works, the premise is simple: two dancers in a studio. In the first Prelude, Lacarra and Dino were perfectly reflective as they danced around a portable barre. Although it’s a ballet very much about partnering and lifts, they made everything look unforced, natural, and perhaps most importantly, effortless, including the tricky supported promenades in which the female stands on the barre itself. It was quite mesmerising. In the second Prelude, with the barre now removed, the couple were delicately romantic, dancing in a pool of light. The third prelude is more lively and upbeat and rounds of the ballet well.

Lacarra and Dino also danced the third act pas de deux from John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias”, but as with a lot of pas de deux from ballets with strong stories, it doesn’t really have anything like the same impact out of context.

Stuttgart Ballet's Alicia Amantrian and Friedemann Vogel in Rolando d’Alesio’s 'Come Neve al Sole'.  Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Stuttgart Ballet’s Alicia Amantrian and Friedemann Vogel in Rolando d’Alesio’s ‘Come Neve al Sole’.
Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Alicia Amantrian and Friedemann Vogel in Itzik Galili's 'Mono Lisa'. Photo © Art Wave

Alicia Amantrian and Friedemann Vogel in Itzik Galili’s ‘Mono Lisa’.
Photo © Art Wave

Stuttgart Ballet principals Alicia Amantrian and Friedemann Vogel brought two rather more contemporary pieces. Both Rolando d’Alesio’s “Come Neve al Sole” and Itzik Galili’s “Mono Lisa” have appeared in Taipei galas previously, but again the audience lapped up both. “Come Neve al Sole” translates as ‘like snow in sunlight’, which is an apt description of a ballet in which the man is at first unresponsive but then soon melts from the attentions of his partner. It’s a quirky work full of slightly silly interplay that includes some clever use of two stretchy T-shirts. Although it didn’t quite have the same sense of fun that it did when Polina Semionova and Dmitry Semionov performed it in 2012, it was still a delight from start to finish.

Galili’s “Mono Lisa” starts in a similar way, although now it is the man who dances while the woman mooches around the stage looking bored. Danced to an industrial score by Thomas Höfs, the ballet has the atmosphere of a factory. Galili’s choreography is sparky and packed with sharp angles and long lines as the couple twist, turn and entwine. Amantrian’s gymnastics and over-extensions and Friedemann’s swinging her around by her legs are not pretty in the romantic sense, but they are certainly dramatic, appropriate to the work, and performed with consummate ease.

Misa Kuranaga (Boston Ballet) and Joaquin de Luz (New York City Ballet) in George Balanchine's 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux'.  Photo © Art

Misa Kuranaga (Boston Ballet) and Joaquin de Luz (New York City Ballet) in George Balanchine’s ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’.
Photo © Art

For all Amantrian and Vogel’s brilliance, though, the dancing honours belonged to Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga, a last-minute replacement for New York City Ballet’s Ana Sophia Scheller, who was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury a week beforehand.

In both the big pas de deux from “Don Quixote” and George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”, Kuranaga managed to combine delicacy with crispness. Her fouettés were especially stunning, each one absolutely, never a hint of a waver and perfectly placed. She and partner Joaquin de Luz of New York City Ballet showed great trust in each other, not least in the big dives into his arms toward the end of the “Tchaikovsky”, which she went at full bore. After the show, Wang told me that the couple had never danced together prior to a rehearsal the day before the first night, which makes their performances even more remarkable.

Elsewhere among the dancers, American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin got the usual loud cheers. Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s “Le Bourgeois” gave him plenty of scope for his incredible repertoire of leaps and turns. Why, though, do I always get the impression I am watching someone more interested in faster, higher, stronger, and always more of everything, than in dancing to music? Here, I much preferred him in the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire”, in which he partnered Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet), and where, some of the time at least, he had no choice but to tone it down a little.

Kochetkova also gave a world premiere to a new, untitled solo by Yuri Possokhov that takes place largely in front of a white 6ft square board. Although it matched the music well (some would say that Bach goes with almost anything), it said little.

After Jessica Lang’s “Lyric Pieces” for Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012, I was looking forward to her “Splendid Isolation III”, danced by former ABT principals Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky. It tells of a man who longs for a woman shielded from his reach by a wall created by a luminous white gown that pools around her on the floor. The opening image of Dvorovenko in that pool of fabric, looking for all the world like a Greek white marble statue, with Beloserkovsky prone to one side is incredibly striking. The ballet never really takes off, though, even after the gown is dispensed with and the couple come together. O Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky also danced Anatoly Beily’s “Corrida”.

Igor Kolb (Mariinsky Ballet) in Vladimir Varnava's 'Beginning'.  Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Igor Kolb (Mariinsky Ballet) in Vladimir Varnava’s ‘Beginning’.
Photo © Art Wave Inc.

Also performing was the Mariinsky’s Igor Kolb, who showed off some neat comedic touches in Vladimir Varnava’s “Beginning”, a solo inspired by a Rene Magritte painting. Kolb also danced the “Talisman” pas de deux with Maia Makhatelli of Dutch National Ballet, whose own solo offering was an unconvincing and occasionally wobbly offering of Aurora’s variation from Act I of “The Sleeping Beauty”. That was a rare glitch, though, on an evening that sent the Taipei audience home very happy indeed.