Conductor: Valery Ovsyanikov
The annual Ballet Icons Gala is the Grand Prix of the dance calendar, a celebration of choreography, compositions and most importantly dancers, welcoming the finest international ballet talent to The Coliseum for one night only. Mixing high classical with far more contemporary choices and a sprinkling of world premieres, the thirteen extracts performed across this 130-minute programme are an exquisite taster of the breadth of the modern dance company.
Across the evening, the performance standard is outstanding, as you would expect from the collection of so many principal and celebrated dancers on the same stage, and the eclectic scheduling is both shrewd and instantly engaging. In around 10-minute excerpts, storytelling is immediately established using music and mood to set the atmosphere of each dance, using only the diming of the stage lights and a change of graphic background to mark the impressively rapid transition between segments.
The world premieres, of which there are three, will garner the most attention and the brief duet from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s forthcoming full-length ballet about the life of Frida Kahlo is here performed ahead of its February unveiling by the Dutch National Ballet. The Paso Doble-inspired battle between Kahlo and her lover, the Mexican stylings and inclusion of clowning certainly mark this as an evening highlight and adds to the anticipation for next month’s premiere.
Following on from her solo show at Sadler’s Wells, Natalia Osipova formerly of the Bolshoi, premiered her new duet choreographed by and danced with fiancé Jason Kittelberger entitled Once With which merges flowing, stretched movements with more manic piano-timed rhythms. Also receiving its world premiere is Giuseppe Picone’s Elegie a muscular piece danced in fitted gold gymwear that showcases the powerful effort of legs, arms and stomach as dancers Luisa Ieluzzi and Picone himself move in unison.
Other post-war pieces fare just as well with a terrific interpretation of George Balanchine’s 1967 Diamonds, a beautiful, romantic and sometimes dangerous yet entirely captivating duet performed by Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish whose luminous costumes dazzle in the blue-white light. Following them are Lucia Lacarra and Matthew Golding in Finding Light, a more fluid melancholy rhumba that has the audience in raptures at its dramatic emotionalism and skilful presentation.
Classical ballet is just as well represented with Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambe performing Sir Peter Wright and Marius Petipa’s highly romantic choreography for Giselle. Carmen is given rich life by Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov in an energetic performance filled with Flamenco flair, there is an enchanting sequence from Sleeping Beauty performed with joyous precision by Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko, while the Act One conclusion Don Quixote and the show finale Le Corsaire proving a rousing finish – Daniil Simkin’s astounding leaps, leg tucks and twisting high kicks in the latter have to be seen to be believed.
The Ballet Icons Gala is as much a celebration of choreographers of course and Akram Khan’s work is unlike anything else in the programme. A sequence from his 2014 piece Dust, danced here by Erina Takahasi and James Streeter, uses a scratchy pre-recorded piece from the First World War to explore concepts of masculinity, conflict and support in an atmospheric showcase proving, even in this brief extract, that the overall work has lost none of its impact in the last few years.
This is an evening devoted to dance couples, and while some of the classical pieces offer brief solos to both male and female dancers, if there is any fault in the programme it is a tiny lack of variety and a fleeting wish to see a couple of larger segments with the corps de ballet. Not that it really matters when the performances are of such high quality. With the orchestra brilliantly performing all manner of styles under the conductorship of Valery Ovsyanikov, The Ballet Icons Gala feels like the night of a thousand stars, the very best the world of ballet has to offer.
Reviewed on 26 January 2020