Ardani 25 Dance Gala
Zeitgeist, Tristesse, Facada
17 July 2015
What does an audience expect from a Dance Gala, especially one populated with starry names such as Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev, Edward Watson, Friedemann Vogel and a number of others? The usual gala fare you might expect is a collection of classical showpiece pas de deux with some old war horses trotted out to please a star-fixated audience, with perhaps the inclusion of the odd new item created for the occasion.
But that isn’t the case here. What we have instead is three new short pieces that represent work the dancers are interested in doing. It has been sold on the strengths of the names involved but there was a sense in the auditorium that this was not quite what many ticket buyers had anticipated. However, that didn’t seem to be a simple issue of classical versus contemporary. The response to the second work on the bill, Tristesse by Marcelo Gomes was rather muted despite its classical foundation, whereas the response to Arthur Pita’s barefoot Façada was wildly enthusiastic. The latter has been seen here a year ago so perhaps familiarity, an identifiable narrative and local affection for the performers played a part. It was an uneven evening, but it certainly showed that Osipova is a lightning bolt which can illuminate and energise everything she appears in.
The first item was Zeitgeist from Alastair Marriott, featuring dancers from the Royal Ballet. Marriott has already produced a number of pieces for the Royal’s main stage, often abstract in nature, working within the classical vocabulary. The most recent of these was Connectome, featuring Osipova and Watson, which returns to the stage this autumn. Zeitgeist has a family resemblance to the earlier work. It is set to a recording of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto. Live music would definitely have given it more punch and presence. It is simply staged with twisting light projections on the backdrop. (Video projections were by Luke Halls and lighting design by Bruno Poet). The costumes are simple black leotards, Osipova’s embellished with a striking gold art deco-style design.
Zeitgeist begins with a trio for Marcelino Sambe, Tomas Mock and Donald Thom. Edward Watson joins them. Then WHAM! Osipova hurls herself across the stage towards them like a superhero arriving. There is a huge jolt of energy. Though all of the cast get chances to shine in duets and solos, (and the men demonstrate their high extensions just as much as Osipova) it’s clear she is the queen bee here. There is a long slow pas de deux for her and Watson which shows both tentative affection and uncertainty, and later a shorter faster one which is more cheery in tone. Marriott exploits both her fearless qualities and the steadfast partnering of Watson and the others. This piece would bear repeated viewings, but preferably with live music.
The handsome Marcelo Gomes is a stalwart of American Ballet Theatre in New York, but has not often appeared on London stages. That’s changing – besides this gala he is also appearing in Bourne’s The Car Man at Sadler’s Wells this summer. He has spoken of his desire to do more choreography, and has assembled an all-star all-male cast for his Tristesse. The music is Chopin (uncredited) played live on stage by Andrei Gugnin.
Besides himself the Tristesse cast also includes Joaquin De Luz, Denis Matvienko and Friedemann Vogel, all casually dressed in white shirts and jeans. The work begins with the four guys light-heartedly goofing around and showing off their pirouettes and jumps to each other, with some group hugs. Each of them gets a solo, and then there are duets for two couples. Gomes handles the male on male partnering neatly. These are really fine dancers and look as if they relish the chance to eat up the space. But the work seems overlong and overheated. The pianist seems too febrile. There’s a lot of anguished emotion in the work but somehow it seems pasted on externally rather than implicit in the characters or deeply rooted in the choreography. The individuality of the dancers doesn’t come through as much as you might anticipate.
The final work was the return of Arthur Pita’s Façada which formed part of last summer’s Osipova and Vasiliev Solo for Two project also at the Coliseum. These two (once a couple in real life but no longer) have been incredibly popular here in London in classics like Don Quixote and are established audience favourites. But this is a very different contemporary piece where you can’t just wow the audience with multiple pirouettes. It’s a stylised narrative with Osipova as a bride jilted at the altar by a reluctant Vasiliev and who gets her ultimate revenge. Live music on a variety of instruments is provided by Pita’s usual collaborator, Frank Moon. The Royal Ballet’s Elizabeth McGorian presides, the mother of the bride perhaps, looking ferociously chic. She glares at the audience, brandishing a knife with a deadpan stare.
Vasiliev is very funny as the unwilling groom, casting off his wedding finery and hurling himself about the stage with abandon. It’s a role which still provides some outlets for his virtuosity (to the obvious glee of the audience) but also lets him have fun. Osipova after her abandonment weeps ostentatiously into a bucket, provoking much laughter. This work suits Osipova’s headlong impetus (once she has decided on revenge, you know he’s a dead man) and her impetuous, impulsive commitment to the moment. In her final dance on the top of the table representing the grave of her murdered fiancé there is a wild abandon, an unhinged freedom of movement that looks quite different to anything she’s done before.