tue 21/05/2024

An Evening for Hospices of Hope, Sadler's Wells Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

An Evening for Hospices of Hope, Sadler's Wells Theatre

An Evening for Hospices of Hope, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Nine leading men answer the call to ballerina Alina Cojocaru's gala

Off and on: Cojocaru as herself and as Princess Aurora in 'The Sleeping Beauty'Portrait © Andrej Uspenski

Thank you, Romania, for ballerina Alina Cojocaru, pianist Dinu Lipatti, sopranos Angela Gheorghiu and Ileana Cotrubas, sculptor Constantin Brancusi, tennis player Ilie Nastase, playwright Eugène Ionesco, conductor Sergiu Celibidache, actors Edward G Robinson and Johnny Weissmuller among other Romanians who have added so much artistry and entertainment to modern life.

Which came strongly to mind at Cojocaru’s Sadler’s Wells gala in aid of her charity supporting hospices for the terminally ill in her native land (as she explained to me in our interview last week). Romania has become a trigger word these days for a peculiarly nasty kind of xenophobia, but that list alone demonstrates a little country punching high in heart, imagination and wit, not to mention work ethic.

The gala had several coups - fielding a battle of male hotties, for one thing, if you'll pardon my French. No fewer than nine leading men (and a boy) answered Alina's call, and chaps don't come more photogenic than Sergei Polunin, Xander Parish and violinist Charlie Siem, to start with.

What in the world happened to let Xander Parish slip through the Royal Ballet’s fingers?

The appearances of the elusive Polunin as well as Parish, the Englishman whom the Mariinsky poached, were not the only potential balletomane treats - there were glimpses of Christopher Wheeldon’s new Cinderella and an omen for the Royal Ballet’s trepidatious new production of Don Quixote next autumn.

Cojocaru herself, though injured recently, gave us a radiant start, opening with the heart-lifting Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty, herself in full tutu and tiara, her four men quirkily in white shirts and black city trousers. It's a role that she has made her own worldwide, and her demureness as she gave each of her partners a good looking-over made me smile.

xander parish st pancraseA high-wattage international selection, they all had their spotlight moment: Parish’s appearance being particularly intriguing. What in the world happened to let him slip through the Royal Ballet’s fingers in 2009? Tall, dark and handsome, he resembles Roberto Bolle in statuesque grace (Parish pictured right), but he has wit and mental deftness too, demonstrated in a genial gala number sending up ballet vocabulary, Eric Gauthier's 101.

Dutch National Ballet’s Matthew Golding, a current guest star at the Royal Ballet, is less striking but he partnered his wife Anna Tsygankova, also of HET, smoothly and clearly in Wheeldon’s Cinderella pas de deux. This was a smart move by Cojocaru since they were the original cast in the Dutch premiere of the full creation last December. As Wheeldon works to become a compelling ballet-narrator, this duet shows a more romantic, etiquette-aware vein than usual. But being Wheeldon there were three impatiently acrobatic lifts. The emotional-narrative impact of a man grabbing a woman’s ankle and cranking her brusquely upside-down in the air jars with the courteous hesitancy of some of the other partnering: show rather than depth. Wheeldon remains finest in abstract, intellectual inventions.

The biggest event was the most strikingly underperformed: the Don Quixote pas de deux with Sergei Polunin

Anyway, galas don't want too much subtext. The occasion demands irresistible personality and diamond technique - or at least a well-prepared deceptive strategy. In that sense, the biggest event was the most strikingly underperformed: the Don Quixote pas de deux with Sergei Polunin opposite Akane Takada, a promising Royal Ballet soloist. But neither looked ready for a duet that gobbles up the unprepared and spits them out. To be any good in Don Q, you have to be blisteringly fantastic in it - and Polunin was not.

Polunin, lest it be forgotten, trained in London at the Royal Ballet School, where they don’t feed the pyrotechnics of Don Quixote to teenaged boys the way they do in Russia, Cuba and Japan.  It showed. Known for his erratic behaviour as regards fulfilling schedule commitments, he also looked erratic in technical substance. By temperament he is remarkable for drama rather than bravura. He postured with expected style, but was less than spectacular in the air and lacked amorous engagement with his Kitri. Takada herself was exposed by her role's fireworks, which visibly took a toll on her self-belief. (Possibly a match-fit Cojocaru would have been there for this number with Polunin - she is one of Acosta's Kitris next autumn, and it's a role she is a delight in, in every aspect.)

The compensation was the sophisticated amusement of Johan Kobborg’s Les Lutins, a bonne-bouche for Cojocaru, at her most sparrow-like dressed in men’s trousers, playing off two eagerly competitive gentleman callers, Steven McRae and Marcelino Sambé, and blowing her kisses instead at the violinist. You’d want McRae at any party, so vivid and infectiously entertaining is he.

charlie siemYou'd be lucky to have the outstanding young violinist Charlie Siem there too - it is well worth looking past his Armani model persona to the seriously accomplished musician. Still only 27, the Londoner (pictured left) played scintillating violin sweetmeats with the comprehensive dazzle and honeyed relish of an old-fashioned master confectioner. Delicious.

English National Ballet’s Vadim Muntagirov (sporting a longer, flattering haircut) showed his class in the Sleeping Beauty wedding pas de deux, striding the stage as if it were the State Apartments and he the heir, something Erina Takahashi (replacing Daria Klimentová) needed more of.

Royal Ballet juniors James Hay and Francesca Hayward offered Bournonville charm in Flower Festival from Genzano (Hay is one to watch), and Paris Opera Ballet’s lyrical Corsican étoile Isabelle Ciaravola was a welcome guest, though her Dying Swan perished from choreographic starvation - I've never seen a sketchier version. A couple from Danish Dance Theatre performed a muscular excerpt from Tim Rushton’s Love Songs, one of those rage-filled contemporary grappling bouts you might see outside nightclubs on Friday nights, set to a polite recording of Lilac Wine.

Most personal of all to the gala’s goal was the trio of young Romanian dance students in another delightfully Ashtonian sample of Kobborg’s choreographic development, Salute, the converse of Les Lutins with a wee boy bamboozled by two bigger girls. I hope the preternaturally self-possessed and characterful Cosmin Marinescu, 11, goes far.

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