Svetlana Zakharova and her chair (for Motoko Hirayama's piece Revelation) arrived in Genoa for the annual Nervi Music Ballet Festival. And her husband came too – in fact, violinist Vadim Repin provided one of the highlights of their Pas de deux for Toes and Fingers programme which saw him, and the excellent Anton Barachovsky, being torn between baroque and jazz styles when the two violinists performed the entertaining Divertimento by Igor Frolov, accompanied by members of the orchestra of Genova's Carlo Felice opera house.
The conceit of the programme was to alternate musical pieces with dance, which gave Zakharova time to change costumes, being that she appeared in each dance piece. She brought four men from the Bolshoi with her: Mikhail Lobukhin, Denis Savin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, and Jacopo Tissi. They had an undemanding evening for the most part, as they performed just one piece each (Zakharova also performed two solos) though I'm certain her wage packet was considerably fatter than theirs. Certainly, some past versions of this programme have seen just two male dancers, but maybe she wanted to treat them to a boys' night out.
With the coastal pines, palm trees and sea as the background – and occasionally a ship, and once, a helicopter – Zakharova gave off some diamond sparkle as she glittered into view, held aloft by the Lobukhin, for the grand adage from Raymonda. The setting, music and dancers were bewitching, though the ample Covid-safe distance between rows meant that some of the seats were far from the stage and seeing faces proved challenging, which dimmed the impact of the performances somewhat.
The humidity that arrived as the sun went down gave Zakharova a slippery stage to negotiate, and during an excerpt from Mauro Bigonzetti's Progetto Händel, down she went in a heavy backwards fall and slide finishing between Savin's legs. She bounced up and, in a pause, wiped her feet on the stage as though preparing for a pole vault, and carried on seamlessly. The humidity gave Repin some tuning problems too, though as the evening dried out the music and dance proceeded without incident.
A suggestive, low-lit scene from Bigonzetti's Caravaggio saw Italy's Jacopo Tissi (a leading soloist with the Bolshoi company) join Zakharova, and Repin and the orchestra accompanied them in Bruno Moretti's arrangement of music by Monteverdi. The choreography of the slow-motion duet gave Zakharova plenty of moments to show her six o'clock leg, but the control and sensuality with which her leg arrived at that position, and left it, made the movement poetic rather than gymnastic. Tissi is a reliable partner and one of Zakharova's favourite dancers to accompany her on stage.
Revelation balances on the edge of cliché and maybe is saved by Zakharova's intense commitment to her performance as the threatening soundscape whooshes give way to John Williams' theme from Schindler's List. She moves around, on and under the specially made chair, and her hair and white tunic flowed freely in the breeze. The piece ends up being effective, and a crowd-pleaser too, though it didn't quite dispel the feeling of being emotionally manipulated.
Repin's beautiful playing of the Meditation from Thais was followed by The Dying Swan, which Zakharova performed so movingly at La Scala in September last year in the reopening gala, when there was hope that the worst of the pandemic had passed. Here again, in such a captivating setting, she was quite magical, with little in the way of fluttering and convulsing, but a portrayal of a noble creature elegantly going to meet her fate.
Johan Kobborg's ‘anything you can do I can do better' comic piece Scherzo fantastico has music by the 19th-century Italian violinist and composer, Antonio Bazzini. Repin attacked the dazzling score while Lobukhin and Lopatin showed off (Lopatin's tours are always breathtaking) before being joined by Zakharova who had yet another speedy costume change; now appearing without pointes, with her hair in a ponytail, and wearing trousers. The other dancers joined in for a hand-clapped finale and standing ovation to an excerpt from Vittorio Monti's Csárdás. A sold-out event with a delighted crowd and an equally thrilled cast was delightful to witness, and one quite expected the passing coastal train to add its whistle to the cries of, “Bravi!”.
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.