Whenever I watch a ballet of the classical repertoire, I remain totally amazed. The scenery, the music, the costumes, the pantomime, corps of ballet synchronicity, and the incarnation of the character … Well, I simply love it all. However, I do get equally amazed when I watch a ballet gala. The beauty of the galas is the taste of surprise, the novelty, the dichotomy between the classical and modern styles. The surprise about the costume, music and especially the opportunity to see new works without the scenic composition. Only the essentials. In the galas, there are so many other things to be noticed. This is when we can see the qualities of the dancer, her training and technique. Apart from her and her partner in the spotlights nothing else exists.
The Ensamble Productions Group has become famous here in London for organising first class events. In the ” Russian Ballet Icons ” series, several top-range dancers are chosen to honour a personality every year. Last year’s gala in honour of Galina Ulanova, directed by the great Vladimir Vasiliev, was simply spectacular. I remember the joy I felt to see the Diana and Acteon variation executed with perfection by Thiago Soares and Dorothée Gilbert. Equally enchanting was Vladimir Malakhov and Nadia Saidakova`s the Parc performance; and to top it off, Svetlana Zakharova and Ulyana Lopatkina danced the Dying Swan and Eurydice variations respectively. This year’s gala was held in honour of Anna Pavlova. The event, directed by Wayne Eagling, was organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of her establishment at Ivy House, her former home in Golders Green, north London. I awaited the whole year to be there and I could not choose my favourite variation, because everything was amazingly beautiful.
The evening began with extracts of old films of Pavlova on stage as well as in her home in London. As expected, there were not sceneries to illustrate the variations. However, instead of a blue stage, there were coloured panels with vintage pictures of the ballerina that gave that made each performance unique.
The first presentation of the evening was the Le Corsaire, executed by Anastasia Stashkevich and Viacheslav Lopatin. The colourful costumes gave a special touch to the piece. Following, we had the Giselle adage danced by Alina Somova. Instead of dark scenery of the second act of the ballet, we had a bright stage where we could see each performance detail. As usual, the Romeo and Juliet and Manon pas de deux by John Cankro and MacMillan were breathtaking, which were brilliantly danced by Iana Salenko and Marian Walter and Daria Klimentová and Vadim Muntagirov respectively. However, the big surprise to me, were the contemporary variations Compassione and Life is a Dream performed by Giuseppe Picone and Tamara Rojo, respectively. Fairly simple, and there was nothing else on stage other than the dancers and the music filling the environment. However, in my opinion, the Rojo`s choreography would have been more appreciated by smaller audiences, because the dancer danced in front of a fish tank, which was difficult to be seen from the last row.
Rarely presented in the West, another interesting surprise was Russkaya, which was performed by Ulyana Lopatkina. This piece is different from the classic repertory we know and does not require great leg extensions. However, it was an opportunity to show a bit of Russian folklore to the British public.
One of the highlights of the evening was the Alina Cojocaru and Alexandre Riabko`s performance, the Lady of the Camellias. Alina has proved that she is capable of transforming any role that is offered to her in a unique experience, because her tenderness has not overshadowed the maturity that Marguerite requires.
As per last year, Svetlana Zakharova has proven she can do anything. This time she performed the Spanish piece Cor Perdut with Andrey Merkuriev. The earthy colours of the costumes mingled with the stage lighting that revealed even more the performers` dynamism and expressiveness.
After the interval, Tamara Rojo returned to the stage to perform Raymonda alongside Sergei Polunin. With plenty of will and energy, they gave the public an inpecable, joyful and strong show. This performance was unbeatable, indeed. The Nikiya variation with Evgenia Obraztsova was also very impressive – in fact, one of my favourites. This was also a sweet surprise, because usually the Ganzatti variation appears to be more popular in ballet galas. Therefore, this was a good choice made by the production of the event.
The evening went on with the Swan Lake “White Act” with Myriam Ould-Braham and Allessio Carbone. Despite beautiful e perfect, in my opinion, this performance was very discrete in comparison with the electrifying program presented throughout the evening.
Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino were also quite surprising and brought so much joy to the show. Lacarra was charming and beautiful with her amazing leg extensions; and Irina Dvorovenko`s sophisticated moves in Splendid Isolation 3 revealed that only someone like she could it. However, it was the tenderness of Lopatkina in Pavlova and Cecchetti that really touched my heart. This relatively short piece, with approximately 7 minutes duration, symbolises Pavlova`s learning from Cecchetti. Often known as The Lesson, the variation begins with a traditional ballet class at the barre; and later on in the centre, she allows herself to be led by master. Also not very common in gala, it was a nice gift to us.
At the end of show, the orchetra played Le Cygne (The Dying Swan). But instead of a dancer performing the solo, there was only a moving beam of light on the stage, which meant that that place belonged to no one other than Anna Pavlova.
- Ten things you should know about Anna Pavlova:
1. Anna Pavlova was the first ballerina to travel around the world with her dancing.
2. Her interest in ballet began when her mother too her to see the Sleeping Beauty by Marius Petipas.
3. Her first stage appearance was with the Fairy Tale by Marius Petipa.
4. Anna Pavlova was one of Enrico Cecchetti`s pupils.
5. She made her official debut at the Mariinsky Theatre with the Alleged Dryads.
6. Petipa taught her the role of Paquita among many others.
7. Michel Fokine created the Dying Swan solo on Pavlova.
8. In mid-twentieth century, Pavlova founded her own company, and travelled around the world with a repertoire primarily created by Petipa.
9 Pavlova moved to London in 1912, into Ivy House located in Golders Green, north London, where he lived until the end of her life.
10. The night she died, in St. Petersburg, the violins of the orchestra played the music of The Dying Swan in front of an empty stage, illuminated only by a spotlight.