From the Bol­shoi to Ed Balls

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Review Of The Year - WORST OF 2016

Rus­sia’s fa­mous dancers and Strictly’s un­likely star both pro­vided ex­quis­ite en­ter­tain­ment, says Mark Mon­a­han

The most con­sis­tently im­pres­sive dance troupe to grace a stage in Bri­tain in 2016 was not from these shores. Re­turn­ing to Covent Gar­den after a three-year ab­sence, the Bol­shoi staged a three-week sea­son of bal­lets as good as those they per­formed in 2007, un­der the great Alexei Rat­man­sky.

It was a ban­quet of great va­ri­ety – from 19th-cen­tury clas­sics to Jean- Christophe Mail­lot’s knee-weak­en­ingly steamy The Tam­ing of the Shrew – and the danc­ing con­sis­tently had the bravura and at­tack for which the Bol­shoi is fa­mous.

Watch­ing our own Royal Bal­let per­form on the same stage has been a more mixed ex­pe­ri­ence. Thanks largely, I sus­pect, to the in­put of bal­let master Christo­pher Carr, the Royal de­liv­ered de­lec­ta­ble ren­der­ings of Fred­er­ick Ash­ton’s Rhap­sody, The Two Pi­geons and La Fille mal gardée. It also gave pro­ducer Peter Wright’s gor­geous Giselle a lov­ing re­vival. (Let’s for­get the Oc­to­ber re­vival of MacMil­lan’s barmy, best-left-in-moth­balls melo­drama Anas­ta­sia – you can’t win ’em all.) What’s more, in young prin­ci­pal Francesca Hay­ward, it has a dancer who al­ready looks set to be­come one of

BEST OF 2016

the all-time greats. As an engine-room for new pieces, how­ever, the Royal is fail­ing. No one in its high com­mand seems will­ing to ever say “Sorry, but that re­ally isn’t work­ing” to the chore­og­ra­phers it com­mis­sions: the im­pres­sion is that they’re sim­ply as­signed a huge wad of cash, left to their own de­vices and told, “If you make it, we’ll stage it.” In fair­ness, Christo­pher Wheel­don tried and failed hon­ourably with his el­e­gant but flawed por­trait of a scan­dal, Strap­less. But Wayne McGre­gor, the Royal’s res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher con­tin­ues to serve up sex­less, slen­der pieces of lim­ited en­ter­tain­ment value (or, I sus­pect, shelf-life), while Liam Scar­lett’s Franken­stein was an ego-drenched, money-burn­ing em­bar­rass­ment. Still, there are chinks of hope, not least that the Royal Bal­let will next year stage its first com­mis­sion from Cana­dian chore­og­ra­pher Crys­tal Pite. In the spring, her Sadler’s Wells col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jonathon Young, Betrof­fen­heit, proved a star­tling re­ac­tion to re­al­life tragedy (the death of Young’s daugh­ter) while, at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, Scot­tish Bal­let’s re­vival of her 2009 study of swarm be­hav­iour, Emer­gence, showed her de­ploy­ing a full clas­si­cal bal­let com­pany to elec­tri­fy­ing ef­fect. As for the Royal Bal­let’s Birm­ing­ham-based sis­ter com­pany, BRB, its very en­joy­able Shake­speare

Franken­stein, Covent Gar­den The least en­joy­able fullevening work I have ever seen the Royal Bal­let per­form – a dis­grace­ful waste of money and tal­ent

Triple Bill was fol­lowed at Sadler’s Wells by David Bint­ley’s flat new ver­sion of The Tem­pest. Nor, in fact, did Scot­tish Bal­let have it all their own way: a well-in­ten­tioned new Swan Lake by David Daw­son drained the fa­mous fairy tale of al­most all its magic.

Those other tire­less tour­ers, English Na­tional Bal­let, danced beau­ti­fully in 2016, but also with mixed re­sults. While their ac­count of the potty pi­rate romp Le Cor­saire ef­fer­vesced with life, I couldn’t share oth­ers’ ad­mi­ra­tion for Akram Khan’s nar­ra­tively mud­dled Giselle.

Khan’s tri­umph lay, rather, in his mag­i­cal Karthika Nair adap­ta­tion Un­til the Li­ons, at the Round­house. While we’re in the con­tem­po­rary arena, a spe­cial men­tion must go to the Ram­bert com­pany who, in the au­tumn alone, gave Lon­don­ers three new pieces (in Con­tem­po­raries), Mark Bald­win’s beau­ti­ful, gen­tly Mark Mor­ris-y Haydn fan­ta­sia The Creation, and a re­vival of its 2014 paean to the great Merce Cun­ning­ham, Event.

The last of these took place at Phillips the auc­tion­eers, in Berke­ley Square, a re­minder that it’s of­ten the more un­ex­pected sights that lodge most firmly in the mind. One such was Jane Hor­rocks’s de­light­ful, in­tensely per­sonal songand-dance tour of her teenage years at the Young Vic; and let’s not for­get Ed Balls on Strictly Come Danc­ing.

Will he be join­ing the Bol­shoi any time soon? No, he won’t. But as a re­minder that dance is about one thing above all else – en­ter­tain­ment – the for­mer shadow chan­cel­lor could hardly have scored more highly.

En pointe: Bol­shoi dancers Olga Smirnova and Artemy Belyakov in

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