Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Tribute to Diaghilev Gala

Ensemble Productions
Royal Opera House
(2009)

The Royal Opera House provided the venue. Ensemble Productions, supported by Alfa-Bank and the Russkiy Mir Foundation amongst others, organized the performers for a special Gala Tribute to Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. The music (a bit ragged in places, and slow in Swan Lake and Les Sylphides) was provided by the Orchestra of the English National Ballet under the baton of Valery Ovsyanikov. The principal dancers were from the Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, the Bolshoi, the Mariinsky, and the Paris Opera Ballet. And the invited guests were from the 'cream' of society, many from the Russian community come to honour one of their own in the presence of the Russian Ambassador.

But scenery there was none - no sets, apart from backcloths for Les Sylphides (Benois) and Les Biches (design by Marie Laurencin). A bare stage with imaginative but uncredited lighting design had to serve for the most part, and how exposing is that.

As in the way of these grand affairs, the logistics must have been daunting for the organisers, and, inevitably, there were a couple of cast changes, namely Alina Cojocaru who was down to dance with Federico Bonelli in Daphnis and Chloë replaced by Natasha Oughtred from the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Igor Zelensky instead of Farukh Ruzimatov partnered Ulyana Lopatkina in Schéhérazade.

And, in the nature of these things, it was a mixed affair. Fifteen party pieces, some so brief they barely registered, mostly extracted from the Ballets Russes programmes - ten Fokine ballets (if one counts a re-imagining of Tamar by Jurijus Smoriginas, and Ashton's reworked Daphnis and Chloë), Massine's Le Tricorne, Nijinska's Les Biches, Balanchine's Apollo, Ashton's delightfully fluffy La Chatte, and Petipa's Swan Lake (Act Three's 'Black Swan' pas de deux showstopper).

A long programme of variable standard, a mosaic of approximations, could not rise to the artistic display associated with Diaghilev's World of Art sensibility, the total art of his collaborative vision - choreographers Fokine, Massine, Nijinska, Balanchine, composers Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, artists Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Derain, Cocteau, designers Bakst, Benois, Gontcharova. But, one is thankful for the delicious crumbs preserved from these tables.

And delicious crumbs there were. Ulyana Lopatkina, who opened in Schéhérazade and closed the evening with The Dying Swan - elegant long supple torso, long joint-free arms - erotic and commanding in the first, and unbearably poignant in the second, demonstrated why she is ballet royalty. Marianela Nuñez, partnered by Thiago Soares in Swan Lake, reaffirmed the excitement generated by her recent Giselle - she goes from strength to strength. The applause was the loudest for these two very different ballerinas, one secure in her status, the other confident in her developing talent.

Alexandra Ansanelli was a perfectly charming cat in the Ashton, Andrei Batalov an irrepressible Harlequin in Fokine's Le Carnaval, and Igor Zelensky improved on his performance of Apollo with the Mariinsky at Sadler's Wells last year.

But, without wishing to diminish the achievements of the organisers and performers, and one is very grateful for nearly three hours of heartfelt homage, it was a less than dazzling evening. Of course, what was missing was what couldn't be provided - the glory that was for twenty years the Ballets Russes spectacle. An introductory black and white archival film of the troupe in rehearsal whet the appetite, but only the costumes of these divertissements gave a hint of the impact Diaghilev's famous company made in Paris a hundred years ago.

"I am, firstly a charlatan, though rather a brilliant one; secondly a great charmer; thirdly frightened of nobody; fourthly a man of logic and few scruples; fifthly, I seem to have no real talent. Nonetheless, I believe I have found my true vocation - to be a Maecenas. I have everything necessary except money - but that will come." It did, and it has.

A legacy to be treasured, which this gala celebrated as best it could.

Reviewer: Vera Liber