Ballet and fashion combine in skilful ‘looking and being looked at’ Gabrielle Chanel

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Modanse: Svetlana Zakharova and dancers. London Coliseum, 3.12.2019. (JO’D)

Gabrielle Chanel featuring Svetlana Zakharova (c) Jack Devant

Come un Respiro

Choreography – Mauro Bigonzetti
Music – Georg Friedrich Handel
Costume designer – Helena De Medeiros
Lighting designer – Carlo Cerri

Dancers: Svetlana Zakharova, Mikhail Lobukhin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, Denis Savin, Jacopo Tissi, Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet

Gabrielle Chanel

Choreography – Yuri Possokhov
Music – Ilya Demutsky
Libretto, Direction – Alexey Frandetti
Set designer – Maria Tregubova
Costume design – Chanel
Video designer – Ilya Starilov
Lighting designer – Ivan Vinogradov

Dancers: Svetlana Zakharova, Mikhail Lobukhin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, Jacopo Tissi, Denis Savin, Ana Turazashvili, Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet

Two years after the interesting, disparate Amore (review click here), the Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova returned to the London Coliseum with other dancers from the Bolshoi for the UK premiere of a carefully tailored double bill that combines the ‘looking and being looked at’ of ballet with the ‘looking and being looked at’ of fashion.

Gabrielle Chanel, which forms the second part of Modanse, is a choreographed ‘biopic’ that shows the couturière reminiscing on her life and her lovers from the lonely, black-and-white-suited pinnacle of her career. The choreography is by Yuri Possokhov (whose Francesca da Rimini was a powerful component of Amore), the costumes by Chanel. Yet more striking than either are the arms and eyes of Svetlana Zakharova herself. Like Lady Fanny Cashmore in Henry James’s ‘The Awkward Age’, you watch her as you watch ‘some great natural poetic thing – an Alpine sunrise or a big high tide’.

A skilful interweaving of video and live performance, Gabrielle Chanel starts with projected images of an ornate sitting room over which light plays. Rising from a real-world armchair at the corner of the stage, Zakharova as Chanel walks questioningly towards an identically dressed, filmic double. The subsequent ‘flashbacks’ present her youth, her affairs, her success as a designer, her ‘woollen bathing suits’ for the Ballets Russes (which dance writer C.W. Beaumont thought ‘uninteresting’), and the creation of the Chanel No.5 perfume.

Ilya Demutsky’s music is the music of the biopic: tinkling flourishes for the scenes of triumph; dramatic chords for the darker, sadder moments. The choreography must display the black and white costumes and giant bottles of Chanel No.5; but it contains pas de deux of rhapsody and anguish for Svetlana Zakharova and Jacopo Tissi (believably athletic, believably attractive as the all-in-white Boy Capel). And like Perdita in ‘The Winter’s Tale’, Zakharova ‘betters what is done’ even when picking up a tennis racquet from an armchair.

The double bill begins with Mauro Bigonzetti’s abstract Come un Respiro. On a bare stage, to recorded music by Georg Friedrich Handel, Svetlana Zakharova and her Bolshoi colleagues are very much the body as instrument: the men bare-chested, the women in corsets of black and white with asymmetric flounces or coils of net-covered wire where the skirts of a tutu might be.

At the start, and at the end, they are bodies that writhe in a human chain held together by their linked hands. In between they dance on their own or in pairs. Zakharova appears only briefly. This is a piece that allows you to notice fluid fellow principal, Vyacheslav Lopatin, and artists of the company such as Victoria Litvinova, Anastasia Stashkevich and Ana Turazashvili in folded, angular movement which often turns a women’s pointed foot into a needle that pierces the air.

When she does appear, Zakharova is partnered by Lopatin, Mikhail Lobukhin and Denis Savin. Lobukhin was a memorable ‘Giovanni’ in Francesca da Rimini two years ago. But it is in the pas de deux with the broad-shouldered, bright-eyed Savin (who also performed in Amore) that the dancers seem to allow each other the greatest intensity of expression.

J. O’Dwyer

Leave a Comment