The two male stars of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in those ultra-chic 1920s in Monte Carlo were Anton Dolin and Serge Lifar. Handsome, gifted dancers, their qualities were celebrated in several ballets – Lifar’s especially so in Balanchine’s Apollo and Prodigal Son. Both were later to have lasting importance for ballet: Lifar at the Paris Opera for three decades; Dolin, with Markova, founding Festival (now English National) Ballet. I saw both grandly dance, knew them, was more than fortunate when Lifar showed me fragments of his Apollo and Prodigal Son. I recalled them as ENB staged its second Beyond Ballets Russes programme, their images, their influence, still clear.
Nowhere more grandly so than in a superlative account of Apollo, a masterpiece in which Balanchine’s identity as the classicist of the 20th century was made plain. This ballet has acquired ritualistic significance, and Zdenek Konvalina revealed the energy that drives the young god to the realisation of his destiny. He proposed a divinity of lustrous physical presence, noble, tremendous, step and pose ablaze with purpose, the score alive in his every action.
Then, from Wayne Eagling a capriccio inspired by Nijinsky, Diaghilev’s original male star. Jeux was Nijinsky’s second ballet, made in 1913 and long lost. For a film about Nijinsky, Kenneth MacMillan created two minutes of choreography to the score by Debussy (who despised what Nijinsky created). From this starting point, Eagling has devised action suggesting the inner dramas that Nijinsky faced, fleshing out photographic images, producing an allusive text. It is a stylish piece, imaginatively staged.
And as a reminder of the Ballets Russes in 1924, a revival of the solo made for Dolin by Bronislava Nijinska in Le Train Bleu (which took everyone down to the Côte d’Azur). Dolin as Le Beau Gosse, the handsome kid on the beach – which he undoubtedly was – went through a series of acrobatic tours de force. Half a century later he taught the solo to Stephen Beagley, and now Beagley has passed it on to Vadim Muntagirov, who shows it to us with joyous brilliancy.
To close, Lifar’s Suite en blanc, that celebration of the academic style he shaped at the Paris Opera. Staged in 1943, in the darkest days of the Occupation, it is a light-giving display of bravura, perfectly realised in Maina Gielgud’s production. Lalo’s score (from his ballet Namouna of 1882) is a marvel. A fine cast was led by Elena Glurdjidze, Vadim Muntagirov, Erina Takahashi and Konvalina, though Yonah Acosta must understand that the mazurka is a dance for aristocrats and not a dirt-track exercise. To Wayne Eagling, his dancers and staff, every gratitude.