Irek Mukhamedov's Gala in support of the Charity KIDS

London Coliseum, London, UK

September 30, 2001
By Emma Pegler

Standing on the stage of the London Coliseum, microphone in hand, Irek informed us that this charity gala would not be his last performance. Cheers from the audience. It would, however, be his last performance in London. Muffled cries of disappointment. The “Celebration of Ballet” organised by Mukhamedov and his wife, Masha, was not only a fund-raising event for KIDS, the charity for children with learning difficulties, it was also Mukhamedov’s farewell to the London stage. The star, and he really is a star, combining masses of charisma and charm with his superlative dancing, recently commented to Ismene Brown, dance critic of the Telegraph, “I was kicked like a nothing.” He was referring to his unceremonious dismissal from the Royal Ballet – or forced retirement or non-renewal, whatever it was.

It probably is time that Mukhamedov retires from the regular repertoire of the Royal Ballet, but the truth is, I would prefer to watch this man dance, and he really does dance, than many of the rank and file young principals of the company, for all their taut stomach muscles. However, since the former Bolshoi star is behaving in a dignified manner and accepting his fate with grace, I shall do the same and bleat no further about the fact that he should at least have been given a last performance with the Royal. He told the audience that, looking back on his career, his only real regret was not to have defected earlier which would have given him more time to dance with Lesley Collier. Mukhamedov left Russia in 1990 to join the Royal Ballet and Lesley Collier retired from the stage in 1995.

Irek’s one sadness at his farewell gala was that Viviana Durante, another of his celebrated partners, had been detained at an emergency rehearsal in Italy and was not there to dance the Farewell pas de deux from “Winter Dreams.” MacMillan choreographed Winter Dreams for Irek in 1991, just after he arrived in London, developing the powerful, brute force of a star used to dancing Grigorovitch epics like “Spartacus,” into a lyrical and dramatic dancer. Irek cannot see any other ballerina dancing “Winter Dreams” and, since, when he thinks of MacMillan, he thinks of Viviana, he had decided to take MacMillan off the menu for the evening.

The dancing opened with young dancers from the Arts Educational School, Tring, performing choreography by Mukhamedov to a dramatic Khachaturian score. Once warmed up we were treated to Balanchine’s “Tarantella” performed by our hero with Izabella Milewska, principal of the Polish National Ballet. Presumably, because her company happened to be in town performing with Anasatasia Volochkova, Ms Milewska was able to step in to learn the piece in, Irek told us, “24 hours” to replace Winter Dreams. So the audience appreciated her efforts all the more.

Mara Galeazzi, looking sexier than I have ever seen her in slinky and skimpy black, danced an extract from Ashley Page’s “Fearful Symmetries” with Adam Cooper. I have seen the whole work performed by the Royal Ballet and was bowled over by the overall dramatic effect it created with many black-stockinged legs at angles, creating the effect of a Constructivist painting. With this extract, I observed the cleverness of the choreography in its reduced form.

As Tamara Rojo turned her deep, black, Spanish eyes on Polish principal, Slawomir Wozniak, it struck me that the Sadler’s Wells audience had been short-changed the previous week with the undramatic, or rather, melodramatic, antics of Anastasia Volochkova. Here we had an instantly recognisable Giselle.

But the highlight of the first part of the evening was our hero dancing with my heroine, Altynai Asylmuratova, in William Tuckett’s Louis Armstrong piece. She is divine. Since the great ballerina now heads up the Vaganova Academy she is a rare commodity on any stage, let alone a London stage, so I drank in the performance. A fuller version of this had been performed last year during Irek’s Sadler’s Wells season and I had really thought I would never see it again. Mukhamedov struts and jazzily drags along the stage, circling the object of his desires like a man half-Brando, half-Travolta. Asylmuratova is the sophisticated sex siren in slinky, bright blue dress, black stockings and black ballet shoes. Every tiny step and arm movement is loaded with musicality – “every little thing she does is magic,” in the words of a great Police song.

Darshan Singh Bhuller’s “Sita” is an erotic piece. Asylmuratova and Mukhamedov had premiered the piece last year but it left little impact on me. Notwithstanding my blind devotion to Asylmuratova, she is too much the ballerina, too elevated, light and too above the floor, to respond well to rolling around it. I also understand that she had had little time to rehearse. Mara Galeazzi was perfect (apart from the unflattering yellow number she was wearing), entwining her body snake-like around Mukhamedov’s powerful torso. He, meanwhile, was giving his all to the piece, his sweat flying through the air like a sheet of glass.

More good names: Miyako Yoshida of the Royal Ballet and Stuart Cassidy (formerly of the Royal) gave us an extract from Ashton’s “Daphnis and Chloe”. Daria Klimentova of English National Ballet played Buenos Aires tango muse in Mukhamedov’s work in progress, ‘Four horsemen…’ inspired by the Valentino film “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” I was impressed (and being a tango dancer, I think that actually means something) that Irek’s choreography showed signs of genuine Argentinean tango, moving away from the cheesy version of the film where Valentino seems to dance more with the screen than he does with his partner (such choreography, alas, inspiring the European form of the dance). The best tango music had not been chosen but it was one of those evenings for which perfection is hardly the point. And then Tamara Rojo and Adam Cooper danced an extract from “Spartacus,” so admirably that the palms of my hands became quite sore. I have seen Irek dance this, although only on video, and I thought his bold, Bolshoi bravura unrepeatable. Cooper’s jumps were not so high nor energetic, but it was a damned fine performance and the pair devoured the choreography so that you believed in their passion. (I would like to see a little more of this type of behaviour at the other opera house down the road.) Rojo is tiny, but surely not so tiny that she can be lifted above Cooper’s head with one hand, and slowly? But with a slight buckle, which actually illustrated just how hard it is, Cooper managed it.

The final scene from “Zorba” ended the evening, developing into a jumping match between Wozniak and Mukhamedov, with our hero winning. Needless to say, the house burned with the sparks from the clapping. Altitude and power in jumps can be replicated, but Mukhamedov's sheer delight in dancing cannot.


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Edited by Marie.

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