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BWW Review: RUSSIAN BALLET ICONS GALA, London Coliseum It's always a tough choice, at this annual Ballet Icons Gala, to know whether to review the performances on stage or the extravagant antics of its animated Russian audience.

It's a starry evening, where the glamorous attendees don floor-length gowns, the men wear tuxedos, and although it's meant to start at 7pm, you can dream on if you think anything is starting on time! What an occasion, though - a varied offering of classical and contemporary repertoire, and danced by some of ballet's most recognisable stars with, it must be said, mixed success.

Perhaps I am biased, but the most enjoyable performances brought charisma and warmth to the stage as well as good technique, and this tended to be displayed by those most familiar to London audiences. Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé danced the Act II pas de deux from Giselle with heartfelt tenderness. Naghdi demonstrated a wonderful fragility with delicate arms and showed little strain in the lingering développés. Sambé is a sincere partner and comes alive in the energetic solo full of jumps and neat multiple pirouettes.

The penultimate performance of the evening was an impactful addition by English National Ballet's James Streeter and Erina Takahashi. After having complained last week about the treatment of Akram Khan's Dust in ENB's 70th anniversary gala, that wrong was righted in moving fashion here with the haunting central pas de deux.

Dust so vividly captures the gut wrenching devastation of loss. After women become the mainstay of the domestic workforce and men fight in the trenches, one couple attempt to reconnect through a gymnastic, turbulent pas de deux. Takahashi is so relentless and dutiful, Streeter writhes in an agonising purgatory - this to a soundtrack of British soldier Edward Dwyer's voice who sings "We're here because, we're here because ..." before cutting to darkness in a powerful conclusion.

Other familiar names include Natalia Osipova and her real-life partner Jason Kittelberger, whose world premiere, One With, took a similar form to much of Osipova's solo work. Billed as a "conversation devoid of language", this is certainly true as they spring off each other with fervent physicality, but the resemblances to what we've seen before mean it fails to make an impression.

A more successful addition was former Royal Ballet Principal Matthew Golding with his elegant partner Lucia Lacarra in a lucid duet, Finding Light, that required graceful acrobats from Lacarra, anchored with style by Golding's commanding partnering.

That predominantly left the show-stopping Russian counterparts and their splendid technique to take centre stage. There were clean and secure opening performances from Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish with Balanchine's Diamonds pas de deux from Jewels, and Ekaterina Kondaurova and Timur Askerov were majestic in their take on the Grand Pas Classique.

Both pairs of dancers' technique is distinct from what we are used to seeing on the London stage. Long-limbed females show off faultless arabesques and fast turns, but there's a sense of the proficient about it and it lacks a bit of joy.

Raising the bar, Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko (of the Bolshoi) delivered finesse and regality in the dreamy Sleeping Beauty wedding scene, and the evening was rounded off with some dazzling virtuoso dancing from Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin in the storming pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Salenko sailed through her fouettes and Simkin pulled off the complex jumps with mid-air twists and turns without trouble.

A mixed bag it may be, but this unique annual gala remains a glittering occasion where the tutus and tiaras on stage are not the only glamorous visions to be seen.

The Russian Ballet Icons Gala took place on 26 January at the London Coliseum

Image: Kristyna Kashvili

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