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Prague Ballet Gala 2009 at the State Opera

Posted on January 9, 2009

Since January 2006 the Prague Ballet Gala has become one of the most respected dance events in the Czech Republic. Hosted by the Prague International Ballet and its stimulating artistic director, Jana Kurova, the gala unites each year on the stage of the Prague State Opera dancers of various ensembles from around the world. Kurova, a former principal ballerina with the Prague National Theatre, considers it an ideal channel to make a strong case for classical ballet – which is very much in decline in her country – stimulating public interest and finding sponsors to give it a proper chance again. For the fourth edition of the gala she allowed the audience to further discover and compare different schools and styles, represented by some of their finest exponents. The programme was attractively balanced between the purely classical and contemporary, and, for the initiated, between the usual suspects and some lesser-known novelties. With artistic levels pleasingly high, the evening couldn’t possibly have missed its goal.


From the Paris Opéra Ballet came two young sujets, Mathilde Froustey and Josua Hoffalt, both medalists from the Varna International Ballet Competition, among others. They were seen in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique, where they demonstrated with cool authority their beauty of manner and somewhat standoffish elegance, although ideally the piece could have had a bit more dazzle and fun. The fun was reserved for Cordiablement, an attractive duet from the young French artist Samuel Murez (published under his pseudonym Raul Zeummes), set to Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and taken from his larger work Quatre en trois parties. Murez dances in the corps de ballet of the Paris Opéra and has increasingly been singled out as deft dance-maker in recent years. He capitalises on the broad range of the Paris Opéra dancers, easily covering classical as well as contemporary, and spiced with a welcome dose of humour. His Cordiablement gently parodied academic dance and was attractively performed by Froustey and Hoffalt.

Aki Saito and Wim Vanlessen, principals with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, are seen more and more often in international events. In Prague they danced the crowd-pleasing duet from William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated but also the Act III pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. The rare sense of rapport between these two dancers, who have been performing together since school days, is a continuous pleasure to behold and while their smooth rendering of the Forsythe piece is exciting, it was undoubtedly with the Sleeping Beauty pas de deux  – taken from Marcia Haydée’s staging for Flanders – that they made the strongest impression. Taken out of its dramatic context, it is purely by the quality of the dancing and the sense of style and theatricality that this pas de deux can survive a gala, yet with two compelling performers like Saito and Vanlessen the right atmosphere is caught within a heartbeat.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Dmitry Gudanov, representing the Bolshoi Ballet, faced the same challenge with the “Black Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake, but pulled it off brilliantly thanks to their innate sense of drama. They invested every step and pose with meaning. Krysanova is clearly one of the Bolshoi’s most remarkable up-and-coming soloists and her solos avoided the pitfall of cheap circus-bravura one sometimes sees. Instead, she reflected the rejuvenated and vibrant, yet ultimately stylish approach to the classics we have come to admire in Bolshoi dancing during Alexei Ratmansky’s leadership.

Gudanov returned in the second half of the evening with a solo from Ratmansky’s Dreams about Japan, reminding us he is not only a splendid classicist but also a gifted dramatic dancer – the eloquence of his plastique created some unforgettable images and a true sense of mystery.

Viengsay Valdés and Rómel Frómeta from the National Ballet of Cuba brought yet another style, first with a charmingly archaic La Fille mal gardée pas de deux, in the version by Alicia Alonso, then with a hard-to-follow powerhouse rendering of the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, exemplifying Frómeta’s formidable elevation and Valdés rock-solid balances.

Finally, Elisabet Ros from Béjart Ballet Lausanne, introduced Prague to two Béjart creations, Brel et Barbara and I Was Born To Love You, set respectively to music by Jacques Brel and Queen. As is usual with Béjart, both dances showed emotionalism at its most blatant, but one couldn’t have found a more convincing advocate for them than Ros.

Aki Saito and Wim Vanlessen of the Royal Ballet of Flanders in the pas de deux from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty. Photograph © Marc Haegeman

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