Russian Ballet Pyrotechnics in Homage to Nijinsky

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2013: Vaslav Nijinsky: Soloists, Orchestra of English National Ballet / Valery Ovsyaikov (conductor), London Coliseum, 10.3.2013. (JOD)

Music: Tchaikovsky, Bach, Debussy, Prokofiev, Weber, Pugni, Rimbaud, Moszkowski, Chopin, Rimsky-Korsakov

‘Like a firework display,’ said a woman in the queue for coats after the Russian Ballet Icons Gala dedicated to Vaslav Nijinsky at the Coliseum. ‘It’s difficult to remember which one was which.’ She was referring to the twelve pas de deux and one pas de trois (Jeux), some of which had burned with a dazzling intensity while they lasted. Nijinsky, what came before him and after him, was the hook on which to hang these examples of different types of choreography: classical, neoclassical, modern (but not arranged in that chronological order). A world for each piece was effectively created by the music, the lighting, the backdrops and the costumes (some of them as dazzling as the dancing itself).

Three of the works were those in which the dancer himself had performed, though these were perhaps not the most successful of the evening. No other dancer can have Nijinsky’s stocky thighs and thick neck, and hold himself in quite the way Nijinsky is seen to hold himself in the images that were projected on to the back of the stage at different times. And it can’t be 1909 again. Le Spectre de la Rose was the piece that perhaps came closest. This might have been due to the power of the music or the setting or the dancing of Ivan Putrov and Elena Glurdjidze and in part to the impact of seeing the costume of the Spectre in vivid pink after seeing only the black and white photograph of it for so many years.

But if the spirit of Nijinksy could not quite be captured, elsewhere there were manèges that, as they happened, made the audience break out into applause, and effortless-seeming fish dives that made them roar. It wasn’t all glitter and technical skill alone, either. Some of the pas de deux were of an emotional depth, in particular John Neumeier’s Adagio From Bach Suite No. 3 and Wayne McGregor’s Qualia. These pieces are expressive of a lack of communication or the inability to connect. And that is not to say there was no emotion in a dancer’s execution of a pirouette in the Diamonds Pas De Deux From Jewels (Balanchine), or a bourrée in the extract from Les Sylphides. Nijinsky restored the male dancer to prominence after a century in which he had been the support of his female partner, or represented by a ballerina en travesti. This Gala celebrated the dancing of both men and women.

In the opening and closing address, no mention was made of Nijinsky’s relationship with Diaghilev, or the schizophrenia from which he suffered. Perhaps there was no need to. This evening of pas de deux had begun with a prologue danced by the wan, broken, partnerless Petrushka. It was in photographs of him in that role that one writer, at least, thought Nijinsky most resembled himself. The pyrotechnic display of dancing that followed rather eclipsed this prologue. The memory of it returned later on, like the damp, charred cardboard tubes lying on the grass on the morning after a fireworks display.

John O’Dwyer