Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 29th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Alina Cojocaru, Alina, at Sadler’s Wells, February 21

Alina Cojocaru
Alina Cojocaru (photo: Moran Norman)

Alina Cojocaru, currently a principal dancer at English National Ballet, is the kind of performer who can efface her personality to fuse her creative self with the character she is playing. A program that celebrates her, such as the recent Sadler’s Wells evening, Alina, is thus faced with a challenge as to who is being presented. Cojocaru initially sidesteps the issue by stressing the musical heart of dance in a performance by cellist Margarita Balanas and violinist Charlie Siem of Handel’s Passacaglia for Violin and Cello.

We first see Cojocaru as performer in Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence, a duet for her and Johann Kobborg that Rushton began ten years ago and finished only recently. It is set to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel — played live on stage by Balanas and pianist Sasha Grynyuk — the clarity of which is matched by the lightness of Rushton’s lines and gestures. Cojocaru inhabits these with ludic innocence, willingly accepting and returning the playful advances of an attentive and admiring Kobborg. As the first chapter in an expressive biography it reads as a coming-of-age ceremony in which the image of a butterfly opening its wings merges with the development of a mature relationship. Kobborg has a moment of casual virtuosity that he passes off with a smile, and they walk off together with a quiet sense of fulfilment.

There are two short films by Kim Brandstrup that act as introductions to the person from whom the performer develops, as well as serving the practical function of giving Cojocaru time to breathe and change between works. The first is Faces, to music by François Couperin, in which the camera focuses on Cojocaru’s face in front of a painted crimson backdrop; the proximity derives from Brandstrup’s pleasure in watching dancers ‘marking’ in the studio — ‘going through a choreography in their head while listening to the music’. Brandstrup abstracts from Cojocaru’s face the function of marking, leaving uncanny traces of an internal dialogue between person and performer. 

Her next outing is in Juliano Nuñes’ Journey, a trio for herself, Nuñes, and Dominic Harrison to the music of Australian composer, Luke Howard. Nuñes’ choreographic profile has been rising over the last year; he is much in demand, and he evidently still enjoys dancing in his own creations. In an evening devoted to the art of Cojocaru, however, Nuñes manages to lose her by placing too much attention on her easy acquiescence and pliancy in being partnered.  

Brandstrup’s second film, Kiev, is a homage to Cojocaru’s ballet teachers at the Kiev State Ballet School: Denisenko Vladimir Andreevich, Rubina Alla Davidovna, Obovskaya Larisa Nikolaevna and Lagoda Alla Vecheslavovna. She had not been there in 25 years and the video shot in the school by David McCormick captures this passage of time. Brandstrup treats the architectural space as a museum in which Cojocaru’s youthful flow of movement contrasts with the stark stillness and the gnarled hands of her teachers. The film evokes the power of communication through touch and the evident reverence of Cojocaru for her teachers and of her teachers for their student’s achievements. It is set, appropriately, to Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, in a recording by Alexander Malter. 

Kobborg’s Les Lutins, created in 2009 for Cojocaru, Steven McRae and Sergei Polunin, opens with displays of male virtuosity to an equally virtuosic Études-Caprices in A minor of Henryk Wieniawski played by Grynyuk and Siem. Marcelino Sambé sets the tone with a flamboyant but technically precise variation that flirts impishly with the musical accents in a delightful interplay with Siem. Takahiro Tamagawa enters with his own arsenal of male wizardry that escalates competitive bragging rights until Cojocaru steps into the fray in male attire and a mischievous smile. Her sassy brand of one-upmanship turns male bravado into competitive flirtation until she deflates both by her awed admiration for the violinist. As the two dancers kneel entreatingly at her feet, she pushes them over and offers her heart to Siem. 

The second part of the evening is a performance of Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand with Francesco Gabriele Frola as Armand, Kobborg as his father, and Alastair Marriott as a quintessential duke. Kobborg is able to translate his close relationship with Cojocaru into a touching and utterly credible father-in-law to Marguerite, and while Frola’s impetuous passion fuels his duets with Cojocaru, his natural elegance is too well-mannered for Armand’s more brazen behaviour. Cojocaru remains in the eye of the buffeting storm, inhabiting Marguerite’s tragic story so unconditionally that in her disguise she fully reveals herself. 


Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Posted: February 5th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Gala | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Ballet Icons Gala, London Coliseum, January 26

Ballet Icons Gala
Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding in Finding Light (photo © Anne-Sophie Bonnet)

The Ballet Icons Gala, presented by Ensemble Productions at the London Coliseum, is celebrating its fifteenth year; for lovers of dance, it is an annual feast for the senses with thirteen works and twenty-six dancers to savour. The gala is founded on the symbiotic nature of ballet icons; choreography, whether classical or contemporary, becomes iconic through performance, and dancers become iconic through their interpretation. When La Scala Ballet’s Principal, Nicoletta Manni, displays her innate musicality by matching the technical perfection of her fouettés in the coda of the Don Quixote pas de deux with the galloping rhythm provided by the ENB Philharmonic under Valery Ovsyanikov, it is memorable; the marriage of choreography and music is at the heart of classical ballet, and the pure sensation of Manni’s artistry is worth the ticket. The surprise is that this doesn’t happen more often; despite the company pedigree on display, the interpreters of the classical ballet extracts tend to be underwhelming. Timur Askerov and Ekaterina Kondaurova are both principals of the Mariinsky Theatre, but their star quality is missing in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. The Royal Ballet field Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé in the second act pas de deux from Giselle but from the moment Naghdi enters the game is lost. Against a gaudy backdrop that removes any sense of the uncanny, Giselle’s appearance is more macabre than ethereal. Naghdi’s steps are accented into the ground and when Sambé bounces on for his solo he has seemingly forgotten his repentance and is determined to thrill the audience. In Don Quixote, Manni is partnered by the youthfully gallant Julian MacKay, but the gallantry is not present in the way he attacks his steps; when virtuosity conveys visible effort over refinement, ballet loses its classicism. And when the refinement is more a stylistic trait than the culmination of technique, as in the performance of the final act pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty by Bolshoi principals Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko, emotion is effectively excised from the motion. It is only in the final pas de deux from Le Corsaire by Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin — both currently principals of Staatsballett Berlin — that the sparks worthy of a gala begin to fly. Simkin flirts with excess — perhaps it is this flirtation that makes his presence so fascinating — but his seemingly effortless virtuosity leaves traces of perfection. Salenko is well matched in energy and technical ease — her fouettés are so centred she finds it hard to stop — and the pair bring the performance to a climactic end. 

While all the dancers in the Ballet Icons Gala are classically trained, some of the works are either neo-classical or contemporary. In Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux from Jewels, Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish pay elegant homage to the Russian tradition in which they — and Balanchine — were trained, while the extract from Alberto Alonso’s Carmen sees Maria Alexandrova replace fire with guile, leaving her fiery partner Vladislav Lantratov as José without a flame. One of the great exponents of classical ballet, Natalia Osipova, finds herself in an ambivalent dynamic with Jason Kittelberger in the world première of his Once with. Set to piano studies by Jean Sibelius, the duet sees them in a ‘physical conversation devoid of language miscommunication’. Kittelberger is clearly at home with the movement he creates on himself, but Osipova is still adapting to a physical communication that seems to hold her back from fully expressing herself. La Scala’s Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello do not hold back from Angelin Preljocaj’s intoxicating language in the brief duet from Le Parc that makes the adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 even more achingly beautiful, but the world première of Giuseppe Picone’s Elegie that he dances with Luisa Ieluzzi, shows how seductive language can so easily become self-indulgent. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet from Frida, performed by Dutch National Ballet’s Maia Makhateli and James Stout, struggles for context in this gala setting, all the more so because the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera seems undercooked, while the duet from Akram Khan’s Dust is danced with such passion and conviction by English National Ballet’s Erina Takahashi and James Streeter that its wartime context, signified in Jocelyn Pook’s haunting score, is entirely subsumed. But it’s the audience’s lavish applause for Edwaard Liang’s Finding Light that suggests the interpretation by Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding of the dynamic shapes and intimate undulations of Liang’s choreographic relationship is so complete that we are witness to how an icon is created.


The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

Posted: April 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

The Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 23

Kristen McNally and artists of the Royal Ballet in Flight Pattern (photo: Johan Persson)

This is a program of repertoire works by former Royal Ballet dancers, David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon, wrapped around a new commission by Crystal Pite, the first female choreographer to perform her work on the main stage in a long, long, time. Despite this landmark achievement, Pite is not a classical choreographer, nor are her works in the classical idiom. Borrowing a leaf from Tamara Rojo’s astute book, the Royal Ballet has brought in a lauded contemporary name on a contemporary theme at an appropriate moment. It is also borrowing from the book of Sadler’s Wells associate artists. Much as I love Pite’s work, Flight Pattern blends uneasily with both the accompanying repertoire and the surroundings. It’s a beautifully fraught work (beautiful and fraught) about the fate of migrants, not a subject that lends itself naturally to the velvet and gilded glamour of the Royal Opera House. It’s an oddly imbalanced program, too, because Flight Pattern is not a natural closer, and neither Dawson’s nor Wheeldon’s work prepares for it in any way; it comes out of nowhere. It is nevertheless a sublime conception, both scenically and choreographically, for a mass of 36 dancers with the suggestion of a lead migrant couple (an incongruous notion) of Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé. Anyone who saw Pite’s monumental Polaris on the Sadler’s Wells stage for the See The Music Hear The Dance program just over two years ago will remember her powerful massed forms of 64 dancers responding to Thomas Adès’ orchestral storm of the same name. Flight Pattern is more poetic and less menacing, influenced by the eerie refinement of the first movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, but its subject is harrowing. The work visualises the endless lines of stooped humanity on a desperate trek to an unknown future but Jay Gower Taylor’s set, Thomas Visser’s lighting and Nancy Bryant’s costumes bestow epic proportions on the entire journey. The movements of the dancers are muted and repressed throughout the work, hemmed in by heavy overcoats and by the giant partitions of the set that close inexorably on them until only a gently rocking McNally and a seething Sambé remain isolated. It is a moment that almost spits with rage but Sambé at this crucial point allows his pyrotechnical wizardry to infiltrate his character, dissipating Pite’s entire psychological build-up.

There’s plenty of legitimate technical display on the rest of the program, however, and the men get a thorough workout in Dawson’s first work for the Royal Ballet, The Human Seasons, to a commissioned score by Greg Haines. You know you’re at the Royal Ballet with this level of technical skill, though the loud landings (and there are many of them) of the men in particular exhibit some weakness in execution. The women are on display too, especially when upright; they are less so when being dragged unceremoniously along the ground.

Seeing The Human Seasons (2013) side by side with Wheeldon’s After The Rain (2005) one can’t help seeing similarities; both are in the neo-classical style with stripped down costumes, and there are one or two quotes by Dawson of Wheeldon’s lifts and slides. Where the two works differ is in the use of space as part of choreographic form. For all its intense movement, its entrances and exits, and its asymmetrical groupings, The Human Seasons, unlike Keats’ sonnet that inspired it, is constantly crying out for some kind of form to hold them all together. This is amplified by a lackadaisical deportment in the men in between partnering duties or bravura steps; they just amble over to the next sequence, killing the dynamics. Haines’ score can’t hold the work together either, so with all these holes Dawson’s form fails to gel, leaking out in all directions over the course of the work’s 35 minutes.

Scored for three couples, the first section of After The Rain is set to the first (Ludus) movement of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; as soon as it begins, Wheeldon’s spatial stagecraft is apparent. The form is held in place by the harmony of the music allied with the harmony of the choreography, pumpkin rolls and all. The second movement, to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, is joined to the first but not closely related. It is often performed as a separate duet and its renown makes it appear as the feature film we’ve been waiting for. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares make it a powerful meditation on the beauty of strength and the strength of beauty, where each gesture is thought through and flows seamlessly to its natural resolution. But while the consummate elegance of this movement is framed on one side, the absence of a final, contrasting movement leaves it floating in splendid isolation; it should either be set free for good or the frame completed.