Kirov Ballet : Chopiniana - Les Syphides - Scheherazade - The Firebird - Don Quixote - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Irek Mukhamedov Company with Altynia Asylmuratova

I am very much in love with the Kirov - really obsessed. The season lasted for two months. I even queued for tickets but all performances were completely sold out. More than 100,000 people saw the Russians at Covent Garden - it was a ballet marathon. The Russian ballet left in style! They really got me completely, they gave me enormous pleasure - an amazing summer for Russian ballet and myself. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent attended the first night of the their production of "Sleeping Beauty". They were welcome by the Duchess of Abercorn, Chairman of the Friends of the Kirov. After the premiere, they had dinner with the entire cast and 200 guest in the Vilar Floral Hall in the ROH.

The 2,000 fans of the Kirov Ballet at the ROH on 4 August did not know that were going to be in such distinguished company as the Queen Mother was celebrating her 100th birthday along with her two daughters, the Queen and Princess Margaret (who celebrated her 70th birthday on another evening with a Royal Ballet night organised by Wayne Sleep and dancers such as Sylvie Guillem, Irek Mudkhamedov, Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope - a very special night for Princess Margaret as she has always been devoted to the world of dance and ballet; tickets for the gala were in aid of the Dance Teachers' Benevolent Fund and the Wayne Sleep Dance Scholarship). The conductor, Valery Gergiev, flew from the Salzburg Festival on the same afternoon especially to direct the Royal Birthday performance, an honour for both the Queen Mother and Gergiev. The audience sang Happy Birthday  twice and the Queen Mother was delighted. It was a Really Royal Night! It is amazing the people you can see at the ROH. I noticed Vivienne Westwood with her Greek husband Andreas Kronthaler, he wearing floppy plastic sandals (known as "jelly shoes" - the ones you wear to the beach!) but apparently this is current fashion for men in London. Vivienne was yawning during the interval and apparently she had lost something and was seen on all fours trying to find whatever it was. Everyone was laughing, as she is so recognisable by her face and very brightly-coloured hair. Maybe she was seeking inspiration at the opera for her next collection. She had a wonderful exhibition of her fashions at the Museum of London last July where you could see all her innovative creations. The clothes were part of the private collection of Romilly McAlpine. Westwood's clothes are really pieces of Art.

I went to the second performance of the Ballets of Fokine. It began with Chopiniana (1908, music by Frederic Chopin). The first Paris performance of this ballet, renamed Les Syphides, took place in June 1909. It was danced by Diaghilev's Ballet Russes with Anna Pavlova (who, incidentally, lived for many years in Ivy House, Golders Green where there is (was?) a commemorative museum), Tamara Karsavina, Alexandra Badina and Vaslav Nijinsky. The ballet is most romantic, featuring women in long white skirts against the twilight of a forest glade; it is a rebellion against technique and is very poetic and lyrical.

The performance continued with Scheherazade, exotic as I said before; a dream orgy in the Shah's harem with a boudoir of green and orange silks, very vivid and beautiful, with sexy dancers giving a show of physical prowess!

After the interval, the evening ended with The Firebird, music by Stravinsky, symbolising the struggle between domination and freedom. The Firebird is attracted by apples and is oblivious to a hunter hiding behind the tree who is watching him. As the Firebird reaches for an apple, the hunter tries to catch her, she struggles to get free and loses, but in exchange for freedom she give him one of her feathers. The hunter himself - actually a Prince - is being hunted by those who want to claim his land, but the feather has given him a power to see off the invaders. In the end, Ivan (the Prince) will be able to marry his princess and the finale shows The Firebird resplendent in red and black plumage. It delighted my eyes.

The Russian ballet is last production at the ROH was the comic festival ballet Don Quixote, (music by Luwig Minkus, libretto by Marius Petipa), based on Miguel Cervantes' Spanish novel. Cervantes is to the Spaniards what Shakespeare is to the English! The story is about a knight-errant from La Mancha who, together with Sancho Panza, punishes all who violate the code of chivalry. Can you find anyone like that today? This choreography was by Alexander Gorsky in 1902, based on an idea of Petipa, and the ballet premiered on 20 January 1902 at the Mariinsky Theatre. The earliest production of Don Quixote, in the mid-eighteenth century was by Jean-Georges Noverre. Minkus, who wrote the music for the version performed by the Kirov s current production, worked in Russia in 1850, and was a Bolshoi Theatre for 11 years. He wrote several ballets for the French but his first for the Russians was Don Quixote, performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, December 1869. This ballet is very popular in the company's repertoire, with the sets and costumes reproduced from the original 1902 St Peterburg version. It is a love story between Kitri and Basil that takes the form of a dramatic comedy. Basil is a penniless barber who wants to marry Kitri against her father's wishes. The ballet is full of gypsy and oriental dance and makes for an absolutely fantastic close for the Kirov season.

Now talking of Spanish-speaking writers, I must say that I am profoundly sad and amazed about the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez, now dying of cancer, wrote a touching farewell letter about his life that was circulated recently. I remember when I was pregnant with Francesca a friend gave me some of his books including One Hundred Years of Solitude. I went through my pregnancy making a list of his most beautiful and original names for my unborn child who was born prematurely. My daughter had to stay in hospital after her birth for nearly three months. I was lying in my hospital bed holding this list of names and my husband came for his five-minute visit (accompanied, as always, by his best friend). He always had a friend with him during our marriage. He did not talk to me, but was talking to his friend, that he has registered the baby, saying, "and I even paid a fine because it was a late registration!". Still holding my list, I asked him what name he had given the baby and he said "Francesca". I said "Oh, MY GOD!" and went more crazy than usual. I told him, "I hate the name" and explained to him how I hated him taking over and not consulting me on the child's name. I asked, "Why this name?" "Because", he said, "in Italy we give the name of our grandfather", (which was Francesco). "Oh, my God, why did you tell me when I spent all those months making a list of Garcia Marquez s names?" Anyway, I escaped from the hospital and ran to the Registrar's Office. I tried to change her name but was told it wasn't possible until three years has passed so I gave up. Them I fell down and broke a leg. I was taken by ambulance back to the hospital, where I stayed for I don't know how long. It took me more than three years to accept her name, but today I like it. For many years I called her Lucia, her second name, or Chica as she likes to be called, but today I only call her Francesca. The Garcia Marquez cancer letter turned out to be an e-mail hoax. I found very funny that I got many e-mails about the illness but not one about the lie, incredible!

Back to the Russian ballet. The Irek Mukhamedov Company with Altynia Asylmuratova," is a dream team", as they say, was again at Sadler's Wells. Like last year it was sold out and a great success. Mukhamedov, a Tartar, is, of course, the principal dancer. When you think of Russian male dancers, you call to mind Nureyev, Baryshinikov and Mukhamedov, a charismatic dancer from the Bolshoi and a principal dancer for 10 years. He then moved to England where he has been guest dancer with the Royal Ballet since 1990. He now lives in Bedfordshire with his wife, a ballerina, and daughters. In the New Millennium Honours list he was given an OBE, he was also given the title of World's Best Dancer  in 1988. The Company performs for charities such as the Master Class at Covent Garden, an event that took place in August in aid of St Petersburg orphanages, organised on behalf of the UK charity 'Sterling Work'. They were given a promotion in Hello magazine, where readers could buy tickets at 50 each for the Master Class. Those who attended could meet Mukhamedov, Altynia Asylmuratova and some of the soloists. Helena Bonham Carter bought a signed photograph of Irek and promised two kisses for 2,000 in the auction.

Altynia Asylmuratova, in contrast to Mukhamedov, came from the Kirov ballet, but both are technically outstanding dancers. They say the "Bolshoi style" is all bravura, with dancers taking more space and jumping higher, whereas the "Kirov style" is spiritual and classical. Asylmurtova is said to be "The most sexy ballerina in the world". She lives with her husband and daughter in St Petersburg. She got pregnant at 32 and after within months of giving birth she was back at the Kirov, feeding her baby between rehearsals. The baby, now a little girl, is already into dance, isn't that lovely? Altynia is a third-generation of Russian dancer - her grandmother and her mother were also ballet stars - who buys her ballet shoes here, in London. She says "they are the best". She uses a pair a day in practise, three pairs a day in actual performance, 520 pairs in a year! Now, at 39, she is going to direct the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She is prima ballerina assoluta, gold medallist and Paris Grand Prix winner, very much loved in France, where she is considered one of the world's most beautiful people. She used to divide her time between the Kirov and Roland Petit's Ballet National de Marseilles, but now the company is dissolved as Petit went to live in Switzerland. So Irek invited her to dance with him in London. They are a very charming couple and, like other big stars, modelled the Giorgio Armani collection for Hello!

Verinha Ottoni


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