the DEO defines “gala” as “a festive occasion”. In the world of ballet, that usually translates to a handful of stars, a mile of tulle, and more triple whips than you can get. Most ballet lovers could put together a half-decent program in their sleep: a firecracker duet (Cygne, noir), the weird solo piece (Cygne, mourant), a hint of romance (Romeo, Manon) and the dear old man Don Q. no two. After a year of drip ballet on the small screen, the prospect of a bit of bling and bravery has generated a buzz of excitement around Dame Darcey Bussell’s charity gala. Le Hall (Albert) was hired, sponsors were found, eight major companies (six ballet, two contemporary) were available and generous punters paid £ 240 a ticket while waiting for big names and biggest hits. They had only a few things.
It was, of course, for a great cause, including eight local dance charities nominated by participating companies. This meant that after each live issue, we were served a secondary video order telling us what an amazing job they were all doing, as well as footage of people who can’t actually dance and are encouraged to do so. No one doubts the benefits of community dance initiatives – diversity, inclusiveness, and self-esteem – but it’s not always an easy watch and often needs a big dollop of sugar to make it palatable.
The Scottish Ballet kicked things off on a decidedly low-calorie start, twerking and shaping to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at Sophie Laplane Dextera. Mozart is Teflon for everyone except the greatest dancers, and supplementing the refined playing of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with congas and maracas did nothing to help. Northern Ballet dancers were in much better shape, but Jonathan Watkins’ restless duo 1984 is hardly a party piece. The English National Ballet was equally pessimistic in Yuri Possokhov Foolish kindness in which two couples reinterpret Vasily Grossman’s epic WWII Life and fatein an exhausting spectacle of lifts, jumps and chains (here six rights for the gyroscopic Francesco Gabriele Frola). The Birmingham Royal Ballet brought the pas de deux from Cinderella, danced by Momoko Hirata and César Morales. David Bintley’s choreography is cookie-cutter, but it was the first (and only) tutu of the evening and the masked audience let out muffled cries of gratitude. New Adventures got people laughing with Matthew Bourne’s 1988 fire eater, a parody of no six performed in long underpants and stringed vests. The younger branch of Rambert powered by Sama, an 11-man acrobatic ensemble by New York dancer Andrea Miller. He would have made a very respectable final but this honor was reserved for the Royal Ballet in the play by Valentino Zucchetti Scherzo. It is a tribute to the strength of the company in depth that Zucchetti’s delicate lifts and filigree spikes could have been delivered with such verve by dancers of the lower ranks, but at these prices I think they would have. could line up a star or two.
It was all explained in Covent Garden the following evening when the Royal Ballet unveiled its latest post-containment program: a trio of twentieth-century masterpieces with nine principal and six principal soloists. It started with Apollo, created for Diaghilev in 1928 by 24-year-old George Balanchine. Vadim Muntagirov, who makes his Covent Garden debut in the role, is almost too perfect for the goofy newborn god of the opening scenes. The sculptural perfection of those legs and feet, the nobility of the line, the stately turn of the head means he can concentrate without dancing a step. Her three muses, Yasmin Naghdi, Mayara Magri and Anna Rose O’Sullivan, had been superbly coached by Patricia Neary of the Balanchine Trust to embrace the contradictions of the choreography: half primary, half spectator.
Jerome Robbins Dances at a rally, consisting of 18 piano pieces by Chopin, is a joyful flow of character, mix-and-match duets, trios and ensembles. The folkloric choreography is full of challenges, but there is never a sense of display for itself. Alexander Campbell unties his grand pirouette with a carefree carefree attitude. Marianela Nunez drifted in the breeze with a munching drunken pace. Federico Bonelli leaps and spans half his age like a man. William Bracewell, poached from the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2017, didn’t always keep his original promise (as old-school reports said), but he was on fire on Friday night, inhabiting the music with a disposable grace: feet like a compass points; arms like smoke.
Between the two, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deuxdanced in fast forward by Natalia Osipova. Reece Clarke made a nice foil for the fierce virtuosity of the Russian star. Helpfully tall, Byronically handsome with an impressive clean and jerk, the young Scotsman is a born carrier, but he elegantly handled the showy solo variations, unleashing a fine, floating jump. Finally: real gala material.