Les Étoiles in Rome – Marianela Nuñez, Vadim Muntagirov, Olesya Novikova, Leonid Sarafanov, Maria Alexandrova, Vladislav Lantratov, Polina Semionova, Dmitry Semionov, Tatiana Melnik, Bakhtiyar Adamzhan, Nicoletta Manni, Sergio Bernal
A gala is a gala is a gala… too many bonbons leaving a slightly woozy sensation as the audience rises to its feet at the end. Daniele Cipriani's annual galas in Rome manage to avoid that. In the 2019 edition was Don Quixote, yes, but there was also Polina Semionova and her brother Dmitry Semionov in Nacho Duato's compelling Cello. There was Le Corsaire, but also the considered and passionate pas de deux “Nureyev and Fonteyn” from the Bolshoi's controversial ballet Nureyev with the choreographer Yuri Possokhov's originators of the roles dancing: Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov.
It was a pleasing mix of the known, the rarely seen and the new, with some of the world's finest dancers. The evenings had a strong Russian slant, though several of the Russian dancers are now based elsewhere — Vadim Muntagirov in London, Polina Semionova in Berlin, Tatiana Melnik in Budapest — and with the usual generous share of Russian composers and choreographers too.
Two sold-out shows in Renzo Piano's large Parco della Musica auditorium will be extended to three in January 2020 after this year's success. Surprised by the enthusiastic applauding and cheering, a photographer, well-known for capturing especially Russian performances, commented that this sort of reception was almost unknown in Russia, and he was delighted by the excitement shown by the audience. Marianela Nuñez, though, only has to walk onstage to bring the house down. She is dearly loved and has danced in most of the Les Étoiles events since they began five years ago. Such is the power of the live cinema relays and DVDs from The Royal Ballet because aside from Cipriani's galas she has only danced The Sleeping Beauty (last September) in Rome, though she has become a regular at La Scala in Milan and a large Milanese contingent was present — literally a coach load. A couple sitting next to me had come all the way from Venice principally to see Alexandrova, and there was a group of excited fans who, judging from their accents, had arrived from Switzerland to see Olesya Novikova and Leonid Sarafanov.
The married pair performed the Grand Pas Classique with a combination of bravura and elegance, as well as the creaky Lavrovsky choreography of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene which they brought off by their sheer belief in its style and the grand gesture. The other real-life couple, Alexandrova and Lantratov, brought detailed coordination to Pierre Lacotte's tricky steps in his recreation of Petipa's La fille du pharaon which was commissioned by the Bolshoi Theatre in 2000. The extract from the Nureyev ballet was one of the most anticipated parts of the evening. All that will be seen outside Moscow are extracts from this work for it is “too big for other theatres”, at least that's the excuse. Its premiere was postponed, ostensibly because it wasn't ready to be seen by a paying public, though more probably it was because it depicted homosexuality, and indeed the homosexuality of a Russian dancer, on Moscow's showcase stage in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Awkward. The excerpt was charming in its simplicity yet managed to surprise with some unexpected and complex lift combinations. It flowed continually without ‘poses' to an extract of Liszt's music chosen by Ashton for his Marguerite and Armand ballet, created for Fonteyn and Nureyev. It's worthy of being included in gala programmes.
Spain's Sergio Bernal presented a crowd-pleasing Andalusian Zapateado de Sarasate with choreography by Antonio Ruiz Soler. A pause in the music, like a jazz break, let him ‘improvise' flamenco footwork, building slowly to a dazzling finale which sent the audience into a frenzy. Bernal's second piece couldn't have been more different. Although using Saint-Saëns' music, his Swan died in a very masculine, yet beautiful way, with Ricardo Cue's well-judged choreography urging his exaggerated cambré then following on with the simplest of gestures — it was a moving performance.
So too was Semionova's Dying Swan with Mikhail Fokine's familiar choreography. She has a strong, broad physique but her death was heartrending and tender. Like Bernal, she seemed to be dying as much in her soul as in her body.
Bakhtiyar Adamzhan was scheduled to dance the Diana and Actaeon and Don Quixote pas de deux with Tatiana Melnik. At times he's a little rough at the edges in his approach, though he undoubtedly thrills with his fearless jumps and pyrotechnical tricks, and he has a stunningly high half-point. Melnik's musical box ballerina proportions, controlled technique and beautiful legs and feet counterbalanced him nicely. However, he came into his own with an added piece, due to a last-minute change of programme, which saw La Scala's Nicoletta Manni scrambling down to Rome to join him for Le jeune homme et la mort. He is an intense actor, his only tricks were those demanded by Roland Petit's choreography, and he and Manni played well off each other, exuding a dangerous sexual tension. It was one of the highlights of the evening.
Nuñez and Muntagirov danced Ashton's pas de deux from Sylvia and the second act pas from Le Corsaire. Nuñez brought her habitual assuredness and aplomb to every moment with a majestic scenic presence undoubtedly enhanced by the audience's adoration. Muntagirov was meant to have been her partner with Rome Opera Ballet for The Sleeping Beauty, but an indisposition saw Lantratov take over. Rome audiences now had the chance to see his elegant, pure lines and also his sparkling technical wizardry. His honest dancing indeed makes him a dancer's dancer and, as such, Nuñez's equal. They have the necessary grandeur when they are dancing but always with human warmth at the core, generating the feeling that there's a twinkle in their eyes just waiting for the right moment to appear.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.