This programme of fourteen short dances (including excerpts from larger works) proved a magnificent and diverse showcase for top international dance talent from all over Russia, England, Europe and America. This is the seventh annual Kremlin Ballet Gala, which its organisers claim to be “one of the leading cultural events of Russia”, inside the almost sold-out 6,000-seater State Kremlin Palace (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Despite ostensibly showcasing stars of ballet, plenty of space was allowed for modern and contemporary dance, including Desmond Richardson’s breathtaking and moving Lament. Nearly 50 years old, he even surpassed the energy and sincerity of the other younger dancers.
Most of the evening was given over to classical repertoire, including a barn-storming Grand pas d’ensemble from Drigo’s The Talisman, for which Ivan Vasiliev (Kremlin Ballet) drew wild applause from the crowd for his gravity-defying and masculine performance. Dortmund Ballet offered a delicate and sensitive Adagio from Chopin’s Lady of the Camellias, while other companies performed extracts from perennial favourites Le Corsaire and La Bayadere, the latter which opened the show in an unfortunately tame and unenergised manner. The international crowd adored Olga Smirnova (Bolshoi Theatre), who danced en pointe almost continuously for four minutes, with astonishing elegance and grace, for The Dying Swan (the same Fokine choreography that Anna Pavlova famously danced about 4,000 times).
There were also many premieres. A comic take on Rossini entitled The Skydivers was performed with exceptional, almost surreal precision by Russian ballet superstars Ivan Yasiliev and Igor Tsvirko, though the actual skydiving part (with real wires!) was not well received. The Staatsballet Berlin offered Ballet 102, specially made for this evening, a pas de deux accompanied solely by the recording of a man neutrally reading out numbers of ballet positions, which came across as lazy and derivative rather than incisive.
Though the standard of dance was exceptionally high across the board, and many of the pieces required recorded music, the classical pieces lost a lot of resonance because there was no live orchestra, and some of the recordings came through distorted over the enormous venue’s speaker system. Furthermore, there was no set, and the classical pieces were performed in front of a large projected backdrop of kitsch, animated 3D landscapes. The finale was performed in front of some animated 3D word art that read (in English script) “Kremlin Gala”, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a second-rate poker website. Furthermore, there were many programmed performers who simply didn’t show up, with no explanation, including the world famous Steven McRae (Royal Ballet). The combination of world class performers with cheap stagecraft lent a bizarre and even shocking atmosphere to the evening, especially when tickets cost the same for a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre down the road. But if that’s the price you pay for “one of the leading cultural events of Russia”, then who am I to judge.