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BWW Review: RUSSIAN BALLET ICONS GALA, London Coliseum The annual Russian Ballet Icons Gala always delivers with a host of superstar names from the dance world, presenting a somewhat haphazard selection of classical and modern snippets of choreography. The evening offers up a varied mix of virtuoso pas de deux - the beating heart of the classical repertoire - to moody and abstract contemporary pieces that leave more to the imagination.

The presentation is a little jarring to those unused to these events, with each act coming and going at efficient speed. A different projected backdrop sets the scene for each piece, but the overall feeling suggests a lack of budget and finesse to showcase these dancers in their true glory.

The other problem with these dance highlights is that the audience is thrown straight into the climax of a story, and the result is sometimes a bit meaningless. Only the real stalwarts of the classical repertoire translate well, and excerpts from Swan Lake and Don Quixote proved hard to beat for sheer thrill factor alone.

Boston Ballet's Misa Karanaga made an impact in a storming BLACK SWAN pas de deux with English National Ballet's Jeffrey Cirio. Her sharp musicality and sassy characterisation translated well, with Cirio proving dependable in both partnering and the fiendishly difficult leaps in the Prince's solo.

There were further strong showings from the Royal Ballet representatives. Rising star Marcelino Sambé and young principal Yasmine Naghdi danced the exhilarating Don Quixote wedding pas de deux, which won many a bravo from the Russian crowd. Sambé bounced easily from jump to jump and the pair were pleasingly in sync for the side-by-side sections. Naghdi made light work of the challenging balances throughout, never showing a hint of strain.

Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson exhibited beautifully clean lines and athletic attack in the Wayne McGregor duet Qualia. Unlike some performances featuring dancers thrown together without time to develop chemistry, the confident performance here suggested a familiarity. Their all-too-brief input was made all the more enjoyable with Lamb's precise and angular use of limbs and Watson's impressively channelled strength in partnering.

English National Ballet Soloist Katja Khaniukova, together with Mikhailovsky Ballet Company First Soloist Julian MacKay, opened the evening the Flames of Paris pas de deux, the two sharing an easy chemistry in a neat performance full of stylish flourishes, especially Khaniukova with her final string of fouettés.

On the contemporary spectrum, Bayerisches Staatsballett principal Lucia Lacarra danced a heated Carmen pas de deux with partner Josué Ullate, which was more explicit than perhaps anyone was expecting!

Set in a prison and in costuming that would be more suited to an adult film, the pas de deux was a scintillating, steaming force that felt ill at ease between the Sylphides and Scheherazades on offer, but the pair's lingering looks amongst the sultry choreography certainly grabbed the audience's attention.

Amongst the pas de deux and contemporary duets, the evening also featured two charismatic solos. One from flamenco specialist Sergio Bernal, who delivered in showman-like style with jaunty, interactive choreography from Antonio Ruiz Soler. Julian MacKay returned with an exuberant take on The Nutcracker, with the famous Tchaikovsky score adapted to Cuban rhythms as MacKay slinked around the stage.

Although enjoyable, this annual Russian extravaganza is often a lottery. The originally promised line-up including Kimin Kim and Konstantin Zverev, (Mariinsky Ballet) and Anna Tikhomirova (Bolshoi Ballet) were sadly nowhere to be seen. The glimpses of magic from those who do make it to the stage however ensure the Gala's place on ballet lovers' calendars for years to come.

The Russian Ballet Icons Gala took place on 31 March at the London Coliseum

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From This Author Vikki Jane Vile