The Sunday “Tribute to Diaghilev” event at the Royal Opera House seemed a bit of a mystery to me, best summarized as “Flashy Russian Dancers” and “Flashy Russian Ballet!” rather than “Some Particular Company” doing “Any Ballet, Really.” I had no idea what was going to happen. Were there going to be speeches? Was it a way of promoting Russian culture? Was everything going to go Fa Lun Gung and leave me sneaking out the back between sets? I couldn’t tell, but since I love flashy Russian ballet and flashy Russian dancers (and really wanted to flesh out some more of my Diaghilev knowledge – so much that I’ve only ever seen photos of still!), I decided to go ahead and fork out for the rather expensive privilege of attending this show.
God knows why the tickets were so high – not a single set came with the dancers (leaving poor Petrushka fighting to escape from an invisible prison), the orchestra was provided by the Royal Ballet, and based on the pathetic handling of curtain calls (Bow on the stage! No, come in front of the curtain!) and props (I’ve never seen the “Apollo’s Lute” variation of Les Sylphides before) it was clear they hadn’t bothered with a dress rehearsal to work out the kinks beforehand. That left us with the Diaghilev tribute element – thankfully limited to one short burst of film that was maybe 5 minutes long and sloppily narrated – and the dancing, which consisted of gorgeous ones and twos of people doing “K-Tel’s Power Duets and Solos Snippets a la Ballet Russes,” fully costumed, no holds barred and no silly plot to tire them out or get in the way of the dancing. In short, there was lots of great dancing, which was what I came for, but the snippets were so short I found them a bit difficult to digest. On the other hand, wow, dancers just doing the memorable highlights while they’re all fresh, ZOWIE! It was a format I was comletely unused to (since for me a night of shorts usually means no more than 4 ballets, not 15), but once I’d mentally adjusted to it as a taster of ballets I didn’t know performed by people who were going to rock my socks off, I was good.
As for the program, mystery as it was, here it is reproduced to the best of my typing abilities (after the first, assume by Mikhail Fokine unless I say otherwise, * for dancers not in RB, bold for new shows for me):
Scheherazade (by Fokine, danced by Uliana Lopatkina*, Igor Zelensky*), Daphnis and Chloe (by Ashton, danced by Natasha Oughtred, Federico Bonelli), Petrushka (danced by Dmitri Gruzdyev), La Chatte (by Ashton, danced by Alexandra Ansanelli), Giselle (danced by Mathilde Froustey*, Mathias Heyman* – not originally in program), Tamar (by Smoriginas, danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov – ditto), Le Spectre de la Rose (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Dmitri Gudanov*), interval, Apollo (by Balanchine, danced by Maria Kowroski*, Igor Zelenski*), Les Sylphides (danced by Tamara Rojo, David Makhateli), Le Tricorne (by Myassin, danced by Dmitri Gudanov*), The Firebird (danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov*), Les Biches (by Nijinska, danced by Mara Galeazzi, Bennet Gartside), Swan Lake (by Petipa, danced by Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares), Le Carnaval (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Andrei Batalov*) and The Dying Swan (danced by Uliana Lopatkina*) Oddly not included was “The Rite of Spring,” a damned shame as I’d like to see how it was originally done.
Of the various short performances, my very favorite was Andrea Ansanelli (retiring? No!) in “La Chatte,” a sweet little bonbon of a dance that was just perfect from start to finish. Wearing a cute (but not face obliterating) mask with white ears and a feathered dress, Ansanelli groomed, preened, stretched, flirted, did impossible things with her legs, clawed the furniture, and pirouetted off after a mouse. I thought it was just lovely – perhaps not the most technically challenging of the night but very memorable.
My second favorite (and winner of the “shows I’d like to see in full” award, though perhaps this is all there is to it) was “Le Spectre de la Rose,” a piece originally choreographed for Nijinski. The costume, a pink half-body leotard with flowers on the shoulders, head, and here and there was both androgynous and very male and just distractingly sexy. I could only imagine Edwardian matrons swooning in their chair at this piece. Who would have thought that this would be the spirit hiding within a rose? (Fortunately I’ll get to see it again when English National Ballet do their own Diaghilev performance at Sadler’s Wells – I can’t wait!)
The third best moment was … well, gosh, not the Russians, and not even Fokine! No, it was hometown company members Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares rocking out with Odile’s duet with Prince Siegfried, in which she confirms her hold over him and her utter triumph over her rival (with a thrusting down of her arms at the very end – it just seems to say, “You’re cursed forever!” in my books). It is a very Russian moment, the bit of the ballet with the thirty-two fouettés en tournant (I didn’t count) that basically provides the unimaginative with a chance to evaluate ballerinas in the same way sopranos would be measured against the Queen of the Night’s high F – not a moment that really determines artistry but something measurable and, for many, memorable. I would imagine in the pure Russian style that this would be a dancer’s whole performance, making this tiny bit so memorable, with but Nunez we had the entire character of Odile there, the entire story accompanying her in a cloud. She was so sharp, so smooth, so seductive … so vicious, and Soares was just so the drugged-out-on-promises-of-sex aristocrat I always see Siegfried as in this scene (I always wind up hating him for being so ignorant and easily led astray) – BRRR there was clearly no need to import talent to this stage. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing this story just a little bit too well. AHEM.
Among the rest, I enjoyed Schehezade (once again, full of sex, perhaps this was how Diaghilev sold ballet to the masses?), with its costumes looking fresh out of a James Bond movie and athletic moves for Igor Zelensky (including a leap with a spin and a back kick – I wonder if it has a name?); Le Tricorne, a sort of Spanish flamenco/bullfighter thing that had Dmitri Gudanov practically leaping from a kneeling position into a high kick, very strong and impressive; and the pretty, pretty Le Carnaval, which had a Neapolitan couple (as I saw it) playing catch with each others hearts, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Andrei Batalov completely inhabiting their characters. My husband loved Ulyana Lopatkina’s Dying Swan, but she had so much elbow on display I couldn’t focus on her dancing (in short, she was so very thin I found it distracting); and Dmitri Gruzdyev was a strong Petrushka, giving me a chance to see the dance I may have ignored before but suffering from a lack of context.
None of the others were horrible, though I found Tamar boring and couldn’t help but laugh at Apollo (it’s the lute, it just looks ridiculous). It was a very good evening and my appetite is whetted for more. Too bad dance always looks so awful on the screen – I’d really like to see these works done in full!
(This show was a one time only performance that took place on Sunday, June 7th, 2009.)
* are people who aren’t in the Royal Ballet – I think. They are listed in the original cast list.