Ballet Icons Gala 2020 – Various Artists: London Coliseum, 26 January 2020

Not exactly going to the bingo

Would have made a great goalkeeper. Daniil Simkin is football’s loss but ballet’s gain. Photo by Lucian Romano

The costumes were something else at the London Coliseum for the Ballet Icons Gala 2020. Rainbow sequinned split-leg dresses with floor-smothering trains, crystal-embellished silver chainmail headscarves, peach pleated tulle ballgowns with ruffles, and even a man wearing a top hat and cape. And that was just the audience. On stage too, there were lashings of sparkle, elaborately decorated tutus and a liberal dose of ripped torsos peeking out through barely-there outfits. It was as if La Belle Époque never went away.

In theory, at least, everyone was here to watch the ballet, rather than each other, and a fine selection of dancers there was too. Taken from premier ranks of the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, Royal Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala, English National Ballet and more, they all danced either a modern or a classical pas de deux. With 13 works on show and with no desire to bore you silly with the minutiae, I’ll just rattle through the highlights instead.

Surprisingly coming up trumps was Matthew Golding in Edwaard Liang’s Finding a Light. Somehow, he never really captured the imagination in his stint as Royal Ballet principal but in this modern paean to the sway and yearn of the human body, he looked right at home. It helps, I guess, when you have a partner as pliant and graceful as Lucía Lacarra – she was magnificent – but kudos to Mr G.

In the 19th century repertoire on show, Bolshoi Principals Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko were forthright in their Sleeping Beauty imperiousness, Krysanova in particular showing a sublime sense of control over her limbs. The fabulously balanced Nicoletta Manni was a cheeky Kitri, Yasmine Naghdi an appropriately ethereal Giselle, and Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish fought their way to a small triumph in Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux. Almost inevitably, it was Le Corsaire that concluded the show but Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin did it proud. So accurate and wobble-free are her fouettés, that Salenko must have pointe shoes that nail themselves to the floor. Simkin doesn’t possess a big jump (normally a prerequisite for this piece) but what he can do while he’s up in the air is extraordinary – he twists, turns, gives sly grins and arrives on landing with an extra little flourish of body parts. They brought the house down. The two dancers, I mean, not Simkin’s body parts.

Bringing the repertoire into the 20th century, Vladislav Lantratov was a mightily impressive Don Jose in Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite, and Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello gave one of the performances of the night in their delicate interpretation of Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc. Reaching out into the 21st century, Erina Takahashi and James Streeter produced a fine account of Akram Khan’s Dust and there were even two world premieres on show; Giuseppe Picone’s nicely sculpted but largely forgettable Elegie, and the perfectly decent wranglings of Jason Kittelberger’s Once With, performed by Kittelberger himself and Natalia Osipova. Not even a world premiere yet was a duet by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, taken from Frida, her upcoming ballet for Dutch National, an expanded version of the one-act Broken Wings she made for English National Ballet in 2016. In truth, it felt a bit long, with no real progression of character, but there’s plenty of promise in it.

Supporting the dancers was a live orchestra in the shape of the English National Ballet Philharmonic under Valery Ovsyanikov, and in short the show was something of an event, full of good dancing and the opportunity for some excellent people-watching.

Gerard Davis

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