It would be hard to imagine a more disparate evening of dance than the Rudolf Nureyev gala at Milan’s Teatro Arcimboldi.
Organised by Luigi Pignotti – Nureyev’s former masseur, then manager – it went from sublime to embarrassingly amateurish performances with dreadful lighting and a solid black backcloth throughout which did the men in black tights no favours. Pignotti has been putting on these galas for years and the staleness of the approach suggests a disinterest, though he places himself on the stage among the dancers for the entirety of the curtain call.
Sublime was The Royal Ballet’s Natalia Osipova and Reece Clarke, fresh from the fund-raising multiple-cast Swan Lake at Covent Garden for Ukraine. With the costumes from the Liam Scarlett production, their performance of the white swan pas de deux was full of nuance, tenderness and elegance. Clarke’s debut in the Le Corsaire pas de deux was also on the programme. He’s not a natural for the part, but a wonderful dancer, and Osipova’s giddying double manège had some of the audience bouncing to their feet.
Daniil Simkin performed his signature show-off piece, Les Bourgeois, which curiously was the only item on the programme to not mention the choreographer; I’ll correct that: Ben Van Cauwenbergh. Simkin still has those 540 jumps and other thrilling technical feats, such as his decelerating pirouettes and his floating sequences of barrel-turns, though when I say ‘still’, he is only 34. He started dancing internationally when he was just a teenager, becoming noted in the early years performing this very piece.
Simkin was also electrifying in the Don Quixote pas de deux, matched by Tatiana Melnik as Kitri.
Ukranian dancers Viktor Ishchuk, Natalia Matsak, Sergiv Kryvokon, together with Ana Sophia Scheller, who had been dancing in Kyiv, performed well, especially two pieces choreographed by Ishchuk – Don’t Say a Word and Feeling You.
The rest however was mainly dismal saved by the occasional dancer who showed promise. The gala had little to do with Nureyev, except for the Cinderella pas de deux (the one with the stool) with Nureyev’s choreography oddly credited to Nader Hamed, a former dancer who worked with Nureyev for a period.
Teatro Arcimboldi is large and with maybe the best sightlines in Italy, and its organisers are aiming to raise its profile as a dance theatre – Roberto Bolle and Friends arrives for a week from 18 to 26 June 2022 – mixed in with varied programming that includes Jimmy Carr, John Cleese, pop concerts and the Rocky Horror Show. Shows such as this one will risk its reputation.