Review – Pavlova Gala – London Coliseum

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Sunday night was yet another of those Russian gala evenings in which a fistful of different dancers who normally never share the stage are dumped together for one event and only allowed to dance for about 8 minutes each. At times, these have been recipes for disaster (under-rehearsing a perennial problem, lack of chemistry and bad programming another); sometimes, though, it’s a true showcase with a rare chance to see outstanding performers who rarely grace the London stage in works that showcase them at their best (and a bonus opportunity to see works I am not familiar with). I hadn’t been planning to go to Sunday’s Pavlova gala at the London Coliseum (the advertising passed me by), but fortunately (as it turns out) Graham Watts’ Twitter feed pointed me to it and gave me enough feel of who was performing that I rolled the dice on a Sunday night out … and won!

Pavlova, I think, does not need me to discuss her; however, this was a charity event and the hall was stuffed with shockingly overdressed folks not normally seen in my upper Amphitheater hideout at the Royal Opera House. But it was the dance that brought me and it was great.

Two dances for me provided the best performances of the evening. The first was Ulyana Lopatkina (“Big Red”) in “Russkaya” (new for me). With her Russian headdress on, Lopatkina utterly commanded the stage, dancing very slowly to traditional(ish, by Tchaikovsky) music on her toes, smiling quietly to herself, almost toying with us. Then … as if Mama Rose has shouted, “Sing out, June!” she went into overdrive, suddenly a whirlwind of white gauze and flickering feet.

Also top of the heap was the “Raymonda” duet performed by Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin. Polunin did moves I’d never seen before, with spins in the air with one leg half bent underneath him, and amazing landings with his legs arranged in ways that made my knees ache: only for the young! As I watched him power through the solo work, unaware of who was performing, I thought, “The incarnation of the danseur noble!” Afterward, reading the program to see whose performances I had enjoyed so much (Rojo was a charmer, too), I couldn’t but selfishly hope that Polunin stays in the dance world.

In the “strange curiosities” department were “Splendid Isolation” and “Life Is a Dream.” The first will probably be known forever as “the dance with the really big skirt.” A woman is on stage in the center of a ten foot diameter circle of fabric: her partner walks around her but seems to not be able to get close to her. The expression of their isolation is overly reliant on OTT arm gestures; the use of the skirt is primarily as stage dressing when flamenco shows us just how much more you can do if you try. I found it shallow. (See: “Marcia, next time do it without the chair.”) Meanwhile the world premiere performance of “Life Is a Dream” left me with the uncomfortable feeling that Rojo’s talents were being wasted: I had no desire to see her imitate a fish (even though having one onstage was a novelty).

Finally (though I could praise Alina Cojocaru and Alexandre Riabko’s joyous “Dame Aux Camelias” duet) we have the gala “bonus points” which I award if I get to see pieces that make me long for the whole. “La Prisonniere,” with choreography by Roland Petit, was a fabulous interpretation of Proust’s narrator’s relationship with Albertine that I guessed few people could enjoy as much as I did (see Sarah Crompton’s review for photos). The obsession, the voyeurism, the desire to control were all brought to life by Marlon Dino; the innocence, the arrogance, the love of life and the desire to hold on to her sense of self all expressed richly (and appropriately coolly) by Lucia Lacarra. The entire piece showed the arc of their relationship (yet to me somewhat shuffled together), from innocence to lust to manipulation (she tries to escape, he holds on to her ankles; later he rolls her along his legs) and finally to her death: the sheet falling down on her at the end nicely bookending it. I barely managed to take notes: if only I could see all of Proust ou Les Intermittences du Coeur!

The second (and probably more generally popular) “discovery” piece was the balcony duet from Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet,” danced by Iana Salenko and Marian Walter. What utter joy this was! I adored the way Salenko’s knees bent as Romeo turned her; she was so excited she was weak at the knees! Walter was as wonderfully strong as the “older” partner should have been, exactly the kind of youth a teenaged girl would fall head over heels for – and yet both of them were passionate and somehow shimmering with new love. Again, it was a dance that captured my attention to a degree that my notebook sat ignored while I enjoyed myself. Overall, it was a great evening and I feel so lucky to have been able to see so much great talent and such a diverse set of choreography. Thanks to all!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 4th, 2012.)

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