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Magnificent Anna Karenina and Vandalism in London

Diana Vishneva and Yuri Smekalov in Anna Karenina. Photo John Ross

Diana Vishneva and Yuri Smekalov in Anna Karenina. Photo John Ross

Life in London has been something of a rollercoaster this month with the magnificence of the Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House and extraordinary scenes of rioters vandalising high streets across the capital.

The welcome visitors from St Petersburg brought a rich programme of much loved classics, mixed bills and a new work: Alexei Ratmansky’s splendid Anna Karenina to Rodion Shchedrin’s music.

In Diana Vishneva he found his perfect interpreter; beautiful, passionate and one of the world’s great dancers, she gave herself as completely as the tragic heroine in a profoundly moving performance. Yuri Smekalov, as Vronsky, was a fitting consort and their duets were the highlight of the ballet.

Jury Smekalov in Anna Karenina. Photo John Ross

Jury Smekalov in Anna Karenina. Photo John Ross

Ratmansky has again shown his narrative skills, capturing the essence of Tolstoy’s novel in an effectively designed and astutely paced work. The ensemble ballroom scenes make fitting backdrops for the social interaction where reputations are made and destroyed and in a brilliantly conceived horse race Ratmansky makes good use of the company’s strong male cohort.
Don Quixote with Anastasia and Denis Matvienko. Photo Gene Schiavone

Don Quixote with Anastasia and Denis Matvienko. Photo Gene Schiavone

New life for Don Quixote
Ballet audiences have to a degree come to accept Don Quixote as a silly ballet with some great dance in it, Ratmansky’s version for Dutch National Ballet, a fine dramatic ballet, shows this needn’t be the case. I hope the Mariinsky soon take his version to replace their own rather creaky one.

However Denis Matvienko as Basilio was absolutely on form, setting the stage alight it a flurry of leaps and multiple turns. Anastasia Matvienko as Kitri feeds off his dynamism to ignite their duets.

The corps in ravishing costumes and Alexander Sergeev as Espada made this a virtuoso ballet par excellence topped with a brilliant grand pas. But I missed the contrasting lyricism in Act 2 although Valerya Martynyuk, as Cupid, gave a solo of firefly delicacy.

Alina Somova and Alexander Sergeyev in Scottish Symphony- Photo Natadha Razina

Alina Somova and Alexander Sergeyev in Scottish Symphony- Photo Natadha Razina

Convincingly Russian-American
The American mixed bill showed how well the Russians have taken to Balanchine – as well they should – coming from the same source. Scotch Symphony, Balanchine’s homage to misty Romanticism found in Maria Shirinkina a sylph of disarming charm. She has all the right qualities; an exquisite line and arms that weave like mist.

David Hallberg, guesting from American Ballet Theatre, added his easy grace and needle sharp feet but the ballet does not offer great opportunities for male dance.

In the Night, Jerome Robbin’s series of romantic duets to Chopin’s music elicited performances of both technical and expressive excellence notably from the Matvienkos in their opening duet. Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial looked less than imperial in soft pink frocks. I prefer tutus in this classically structured work. The greatness of the company is the strength in every rank.

The corps is exemplary and every soloist has star quality. Ballet Imperial was a fine example of this; while Alina Somova and Igor Kolb shared centre stage, honours were shared all round with every dancer playing their part.

Ivan Vasiliev in Le jeune homme et la mort. Photo Laurent Liotardo

Ivan Vasiliev in Le jeune homme et la mort. Photo Laurent Liotardo

Roland Petit at The Coliseum
Roland Petit’s ballets have a style that is instantly recognisable and this was evident in the three iconic works presented by the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum. Petit unfortunately died a few days before the opening night and this season was dedicated to his memory.

Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, born in the existentialist era of post-war Paris has attracted many great interpreters including creator, Jean Babilée, Rudolph Nureyev and Ivan Vasiliev who gave an impromptu guest appearance in tribute to Petit.

His power was monumental – from a brooding Brando figure in the sullen opening to accepting death with detached stoicism and in between, attacking the virtuoso steps with animal ferocity.

Jia Zhang struck a chilling note with her cold sadistic beauty and the coup de thêatre of the closing scene on the rooftops of Paris made this an unforgettable performance. First night cast, Jonah Acosta barely out of his teens and a real ‘jeune homme’, made an exciting debut that promises much for the future.

Carmen – Begoña Cao and Don Jose – Fabian Reimair. Photo Annabel Moeller

Carmen – Begoña Cao and Don Jose – Fabian Reimair. Photo Annabel Moeller

Petit’s Carmen is a masterpiece in every sense. Through his choreography he builds formidable characters and intense drama alternating between love, humour and tragedy. Bizet’s music is crafted to a neat 45 minutes with a solo drum beat driving the fight to the death, while Antoni Clavé’s designs are so French you can smell the Gauloise cigarettes. It drew vibrant performances.

Begoña Cao’s dark eyes blazed invitingly over her fan while her pointes were perfectly positioned. Anaïs Chalendard, who trained at Petit’s school in Marseille, gave the role a nonchalant sexuality, her legs, the ultimate in eloquence and elegance.

Don José, Fabian Reimair alternating with Daniel Kraus, impressed as much with their strong presence and acting skills as with their well honed technique and the duets were breathtaking. The bandits added earthy humour and James Streeter triumphed as the Toreador in a pastiche of overblown ego.  

Takahashi and Berlanga in L'Arlesienne. Phto Simon Tomkinson

Takahashi and Berlanga in L'Arlesienne. Phto Simon Tomkinson

L’Arlésienne was, for me, the surprise of the evening. It, too, is a ballet that fuses the artistic components into a well-crafted whole. It drew a masterful performance from Esteban Berlanga giving full rein to both his brilliant technique and fast developing artistry.

He was sensitively paired with Erina Takahashi who gave a finely nuanced and exquisitely musical interpretation as his bride. The ensemble, in traditional black and white costumes, are used to great effect, working in formal symmetry yet bringing a sympathetic voice to the narrative.
Back to normal

The Mariinsky Ballet has gone home, local companies are gearing up for the new season and a citizen’s army with their brooms and dustpans are reclaiming the streets from the mob. London life is getting back to normal.

Maggie Foyer
25 August 2011
Everybody helping in the cleanup of Clapham. Photo Maggie Foyer

Everybody helping in the cleanup of Clapham. Photo Maggie Foyer

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