Amore: Francesca da Rimini, Rain before it Falls, Strokes Through the Tail
21 November 2017
Gallery of Francesca da Rimini pictures by Dave Morgan
Ballet stars rolling their own shows is not exactly a rare thing these days and yet so often they can seem less-than-stellar nights compared to seeing the same star in a big ballet production. There are many reasons for a star to go this way, but I think chief must be for them to show their versatility and usually also to have new work made just for them. It so often seems a wish to break out of classical confines too. Svetlana Zakharova has just arrived in London with her new triple bill, Amore, and it shows she knows how to pick her ballet friends, if not always her choreographers.
The opening work, Francesca da Rimini, was very much ‘shock and awe’, which perhaps should not be a surprise, created as it was by Yuri Possokhov, whose approach to dramatic ballet can sometimes feel like a mix of Boris Eifman and “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf. To some swirling Tchaikovsky, it’s based on Dante’s Divine Comedy and a girl deceived, who wants the young brother and gets the grotesque older one. It features some great Bolshoi dancers flickering in the background as Court Ladies and Guardians of the Inferno. But, of course, the leads dominate and joining Zakharova are the fantastic Denis Rodkin, a consummate prince/love interest figure, and Mikhail Lobukhin as dominating feral beefcake. It was all well over the top, about as subtle as a flying mallet, but the men danced incredibly well, acted with total and generous commitment and Zakharova was presented and draped in pas de deux every which way. She might not be the greatest dramatic communicator but hers is a body and technique to savour, such is her precise and musical control. But I didn’t believe any of it, just as I often struggle with Eifman’s similar approach.
Earlier we talked to Patrick de Bana about his Rain before it Falls (and other things), a three-hander for himself, Zakharova and Denis Savin, again from the Bolshoi. It seems to be about Zakharova’s internal conflicts re a man, de Bana, discreetly supporting her machinations and Savin the brooding source of them.
Rain before it Falls actually starts promisingly with Zakharova in front of a desk turning herself and her limbs inside out in a very un-classical way – giving more reasons to do a silent “Wow” at her control – can’t get away from it, it’s mesmerising. But Rain settles down into more pas de deux and showing off of the great lady in an affable, but for me a rather hollow, way. Again the two men proved dramatically interesting, especially Savin, who for long sections was perched on the edge of the stage, legs dangling in the orchestra pit. Hard to take your eyes away from him really. But I’d deduct marks for the black gauze see-through tops and shiny leatherette trousers for the men – very dated and clichéd it felt.
The best piece of the evening, Strokes Through the Tail, was by Marguerite Donlon – it played with Russian ballerina traditions by inverting them. Zakharova was naturally the centre of attention surrounded by 5 conductors/musicians/dancers in tail coats and, at times and rather incongruously, shorts. To some scrumptious Mozart, it’s really full-on physical contemporary movement (performed in ballet slippers), as they all interact playfully and funnily with limbs making oddly harmonious mischief. But after a while the roles invert and Zakharova gets her own back by donning the conductor garb and the hapless Bolshoi men (led by Lobukhin and Savin) become ballerinas, totally incapable of delivering the goods but honour bound to try. Ther’s depth here, and I’d really like to see it again. I first came across Donlan when she had her own company (Donlon Dance Company), based in Saarbrucken, and they were dancing at a Hamburg Ballet gala, not in a piece of hers but Parade – Massine’s 1917 legendary Ballets Russes work in designs by Picasso including a pantomime horse. I relay it to show some of the wide-ranging breadth of Donlon’s practice and it was an inspired commission that sent us all home happy. Happy for Zakharova who ultimately curated an interesting night, very happy to see her retinue of Bolshoi dancers and happy to see Donlon provide such final good cheer.