Ave Maya– Ballet Stars Pay Handsome Tribute to Maya Plisetskaya

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, Ave Maya – Ballet Gala in memory of Maya Plisetskaya: Dancers and English Ballet Philharmonic / Valery Ovsyanikov (conductor). London Coliseum, 6.3.2016. (JPr)

Ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya and Luidmila Konovalova at the legendary Russian ballet icon’s 85th birthday gala where Konovalova performed her signature Black Swan pas de deux.
Luidmila Konovalova (r) with
Maya Plisetskaya at her 85th birthday gala

Dancers: Maria Alexandrova (Bolshoi Theatre), Sergio Bernal (National Ballet of Spain), Federico Bonelli (Royal Ballet), Marlon Dino (Bavarian State Ballet), Aurélie Dupont (Paris Opera Ballet), Matthew Golding (Royal Ballet), Isaac Hernández, (English National Ballet), Kimin Kim (Mariinsky Theatre), Daria Klimentová (Royal Ballet), Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet), Liudmila Konovalova (Vienna State Ballet), Kristina Kretova (Bolshoi Theatre), Ekaterina Krysanova (Bolshoi Theatre), Lucía Lacarra (Bavarian State Ballet), Sarah Lamb (Royal Ballet), Vladislav Lantratov (Bolshoi Theatre), Viktor Lebedev (Mikhailovsky Ballet), Andrei Merkuriev (Bolshoi Theatre), Hervé Moreau (Paris Opera Ballet), Vadim Muntagirov (Royal Ballet), Marianela Núñez (Royal Ballet), Ekaterina Osmolkina (Mariinsky Ballet), Xander Parish (Mariinsky Ballet), Jason Reilly (Stuttgart Ballet), Tamara Rojo (English National Ballet), Farukh Ruzimatov (Mikhailovsky Ballet), Polina Semionova (American Ballet Theatre), Kristina Shapran (Mariinsky Ballet), Daniil Simkin (American Ballet Theatre), Thiago Soares (Royal Ballet), Ivan Vasiliev (American Ballet Theatre) and Angelina Vorontsova (Mikhailovsky Ballet).

Solos and duets from The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, The Talisman, Together Again, The Bright Stream, Onegin, Giselle, Spiral Twist, Bolero, Le Corsaire, After the Rain, Swan Lake, Spartacus, The Three-Cornered Hat, Moshkovsky Waltz, Carmen Suite and Don Quixote.

This year’s Ensemble Productions Russian Ballet Icons Gala was in a celebration of the life of Maya Plisetskaya who died last year at 89. These galas have been in the schedules during past seasons but I have never attended any of them before. If they were all like this I regret missing out on them.

Getting all these talented leading dancers from the world’s leading ballet companies out on one Sunday March evening was an amazing achievement. Olga Balakleets, Ensemble’s director, and the always affable Andris Liepa (past interview here) deserve the highest possible praise for what they achieved and the very polished evening they presented. Of course, with everyone wanting to do their ‘party pieces’ it all went on a bit too long. It was advertised on the ENO website as being two hours long, in the end there was over three hours of ballet … and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a minute of it. Sadly, a few people were already on their way home by the time the Bolshoi’s delightful Kristina Kretova and the always explosive Ivan Vasiliev brought the curtain down on the evening – and raised the London Coliseum roof! – with the jaw-dropping extravaganza of the Don Quixote pas de deux.

Maya Plitsetskaya was clearly the most iconic of Russian ballerinas and the clips of her performing or in her private life that began each half of the gala was more than enough evidence of – for those like me who never saw her perform – her formidable technique, beauty and grace. One of the pivotal passages in a 2011 interview with Graham Watts in the lavish and detailed programme was when he asked her how ballet had developed since her Bolshoi days. ‘ “It’s much better now”, she said empathically, adding that she means better in every way: technically, athletically and artistically. Plitsetskaya talked about today’s great ballet dancers but eschewed any ideal of artistic succession. “Kings and queens, mothers and fathers have successors, but in art you should never succeed anyone; you have to be yourself, original”. Her advice to young people wanting to dance was simple: you just have to love what you are doing, whatever the profession you choose, and if it is dance, you must surrender – totally – to your art”.’

It must not be forgotten that Plitsetskaya pioneered modern choreography at the Bolshoi but evenings like this remind all balletomanes how all the main dance companies are still indebted to nineteenth-century Imperial Russian training and, most importantly, tradition. From that came Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and its profound cultural impact on twentieth-century choreography, music, design and art, as well as, pivotal figures who subsequently were important to the development of ballet in this country such as Ninette de Valois, Alicia Markova, Tamara Karsavina and Anton Dolin. The Imperial tradition also ‘begat’ all the later Russian dance emigres, the foremost amongst them – Balanchine notwithstanding – being Rudolf Nureyev who prompted the role of the male dancer in ballet. The occasional visits from Russian companies continue to inspire us and as the list of dancers in this gala reveals, today there is a relatively constant movement of dancers between companies throughout the world.

Normal critical faculties cannot be applied to such a wonderful evening of this. Andris Liepa speaking before the dancing began said how everyone was paying tribute to the ‘goddess of ballet’ and were present ‘for Maya’. Initially, I must praise the outstanding work of the English National Ballet Philharmonic and that ensemble sounds as if it could play anything. It deserves the highest praise for switching almost effortlessly between musical genres and playing so well that if you didn’t know that most of the music was live you would have thought it had been pre-recorded. Incidentally when a recording was used such as for Spartacus what we heard paled in comparison. The Mariinsky’s Valery Ovsyanikov was a wonderful conductor throughout, clearly very supportive of the dancers but never indulging them unduly and sometimes setting a fast tempo, setting them challenges they rose to magnificently.

There were so very many highlights amongst the 17 short – mostly crowd pleasing – extracts and I will especially never forget the returning Daria Klimentová (who clearly retired too early) and Vadim Muntagirov in the all-too-brief Moshkovsky Waltz from Vasily Vainonen. Their partnership still is so rock-solid that when Muntagirov encouraged Klimentová to dive into his arms from a great distance or threw her to triple spin in the air, she did it fearlessly because she was totally secure – as we were too – he would be there to catch her!

For me Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli were a revelation in the Romeo and Juilet balcony pas de deux. I have often found Sarah Lamb rather glacial and Frederico Bonelli rather bland. Admittedly that was mostly in the Royal Ballet’s cinema transmissions but here close to the stage and seeing them perform live I could appreciate their artistry and it was all very deeply romantic. Also very moving were two other stars form the Royal Ballet, the always eye-catching Marianela Núñez and Thiago Soares, in the rather derivative but still surprisingly moving After the Rain from Christopher Wheeldon to Arvo Pärt’s music. Perhaps the knowledge of the dancers own recent divorce brought a frisson to the clear evidence of their emotional engagement in this work.

A real treat was The Talisman pas de deux, choreographed by Pyotr Gusev (after Petipa) and danced with outstanding bravura by Ekaterina Osmolkina and Kimin Kim. Equally a delight was a pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky’s revival of Fyodor Lopukhov’s The Bright Stream with the delightful Ekaterina Krysanova and Andrei Merkuriev mugging to the audience and egging each other on to show off. On the downside the pas de deux hacked out of Grigorovich’s Spartacus and frantically danced by the Bolshoi’s Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov did little to make me appreciate what the fuss is all about in this my first encounter with something from the famous staging. It was danced in front of a projection of a Coliseum from antiquity and different backdrops – mostly apposite and often very atmospheric – designed by Nina Kobiashvili enabled the gala to proceed with only the briefest of pauses between the items.

I suspect what we saw had very little association with Plisetskaya and even one of her signature pieces – Maurice Béjart’s version of Ravel’s Bolero which she performed standing on a table –  was presented as Nikolai Androsova’s male solo with Farukh Ruzimatov – undoubtedly in excellent physical condition at 52 – giving it a rather a self-absorbed – though strangely compelling – performance. Perhaps all that was most connected with Plisetskaya was Carmen Suite which she danced until she was 64. It was commissioned by her from Alberto Alonso and the music – variations on Bizet’s opera – was by her husband, Rodion Shchedrin. Tamara Rojo, English National Ballet’s remarkable artistic director, was a suitably seductive Carmen, with Isaac Hernández as Don José her totally obsessed lover. They were both completely engrossing as they danced with a stark image of a huge bull’s head behind them and this excerpt of just a few brief minutes said more about this familiar story than Carlos Acosta’s recent uneven one-act Carmen did in its significantly longer running time.

There was more wonderful dancing in this gala but this review would just descend into a list of names and titles. Audibly it was the sheer athleticism on show that the audience enjoyed most: all the fouettés (and there were a lot of them!), fish dives, grand jetés, barrel turns etc. etc. Sometimes the quieter moments stood out, when musicality and emotion were given a chance to make an emotional connection with the audience, such as in Russell Maliphant’s Spiral Twist for Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino from the Bavarian State Ballet and Benjamin Millepied’s Together Alone for Paris Opera Ballet’s Aurélie Dupont (their new director) and Hervé Moreau. These additional relationship-based contemporary duets allowed for some moments of contemplation and much needed quiet reflection between all the other frenetic action.

Andris Liepa’s stated aim was to hope everyone at the end should agree that ‘Maya would be happy!’. I hope she would have been had she lived long enough to see this evening in her honour. I doubt anyone in the audience felt short-changed as I suspect they can sometimes do on such ‘gala’ occasions. Will Ensemble Productions top this next time – I hope I can be there to see if they can.

Jim Pritchard 

Go to http://ensembleproductions.co.uk/ for more about Ensemble Productions.

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