Svetlana Zakharova – Modanse: London Coliseum, 3 December 2019

Classy and fabulous

Chanel-ing her inner fashionista. Svetlana Zakharova in Yuri Possokhov’s Gabrielle Chanel. Photo by Jack Devant

Svetlana Zakharova is the undisputed doyen of the Bolshoi Ballet, a superstar in Russia and many other countries. Like several other world-renowned ballerinas before her, in Modanse she dabbles in creating a show beyond the confines of the Company she calls home. Unlike most of her predecessors, however, she hasn’t veered off into dodgy contemporary dance territory but instead remains fixedly in pointe shoes. And when I say ‘beyond the confines’, she actually hasn’t travelled too far – the rest of the 17-strong cast also all ply their trade with the Bolshoi.

Como un Respiro was the first piece on this Double Bill of new work. Created by Mauro Bigonzetti, it’s a plotless affair of solos and duets set to a series of Handel’s Keyboard Sonatas and performed in Helena de Medeiros’ excellent steampunk costumes. The choreography is a genuine hybrid of classical and contemporary with a predilection for putting the dancers into awkward positions and strange shapes. What it’s all for is anybody’s guess but it’s an interesting enough watch even though it does go on rather too long.

It’s all fantastically danced, of course, with Ana Turazashvili standing out for her poise and control but she was no match for Zakharova, Queen of the Right-angle. She has such extraordinary control over her body that her left eyebrow could probably knock off a decent Odette, and Bigonzetti’s elongated extensions and switch-backed limbs suited her down to the ground. Her duet with fellow Bolshoi Principal Mikhail Lobukhin was a thing of twisted beauty.

Of course, what had garnered all the publicity for Modanse, including the striking photography that’s been on display in the tube for the past few weeks, was the second half of the show – Gabrielle Chanel, a ballet based on the life of the legendary fashion designer. Much has been made of the Chanel costumes that adorn the dancers and quite right too, they look stunning. In fact, everything looks great about this ballet. Ilya Starilov’s projections are attractive and informative, Ivan Vinogradov’s lighting is pretty as a picture and the overall choice of visual imagery is richly imaginative. Yuri Possokhov’s choreography is expressive and varied and Ilya Demutsky’s score has a great feeling for period.

Crucially though, the thing that’s missing is any sense of drama. For example, we witness the pivotal death of Arthur Capel, the love of Chanel’s life in a car crash, so how does Chanel react? How does she feel about that? No idea, because the next thing we see is her making perfume and he’s not referred to again. There’s no sense of struggle or set-back to her life and, beyond a few pat quotes between scenes, no attempt to understand what was going on in the mind below the cropped hair. Nevertheless, it’s a decent enough ballet, with a couple of excellent pas de deux between Zakharova and Jacopo Tissi to enjoy. And anyone thinking that Zakharova would be taking things gently for a show that runs three nights in a row would be wrong; she goes full-throttle while negotiating tricky steps and risky lifts. And a final word of praise for the designers of the Modanse programme; its fashion magazine-look is marvellous.

Svetlana Zakharova’s Modanse runs at the London Coliseum until 5 December 2019. Tickets can be found on the London Coliseum website.

Gerard Davis

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