Diaghilev Festival, London Coliseum

Ballet is an art written on air. Choreography dies after every performance, is resuscitated at a next showing, yet with the ever-present fact of style and step changing with different casts, subtly deformed, misinterpreted. (John Cranko, having watched his Pineapple Poll after an absence of 10 years, remarked: “I wonder who choreographed that!”)

A curious aspect of programming in recent years has been the fashion for “reconstructions” of long-lost choreographies, with – at best – old notations; at worst, a childlike belief that the optimists restoring the piece have some miraculous understanding of a past creator’s work.

These doubts serve as introduction to this week’s season of ballets first produced under Diaghilev’s aegis and presented by the unremarkable Kremlin Ballet from Moscow, with assorted guests from the Mariinsky and Bolshoi troupes, under the guidance of Andris Liepa. We are promised exhumations of works long gone to dust, of Ballets Russes stagings now rarely seen. Had I been told that we might also see a film of the Defenestrations of Prague, I would be no less wide-eyed with disbelief.

Diaghilev, asked late in his career for the revival of a former spectacle, refused, declaring that “the colours would have to be much brighter”. Well, the colours are much brighter in a boss-shot at Le Dieu bleu, an Indian fantasy from 1912 run up by Jean Cocteau, with a pretty score by Reynaldo Hahn, opulent design by Bakst, and dances by Fokine, which lasted just two Ballets Russes seasons.

What we saw on Tuesday night was an interminable Bollywood romp devised by Wayne Eagling to keep the costumes on the move, roaring chunks of Skryabin (parts of The Divine Poem and the whole of the Poem of Ecstasy – altogether too many fake orgasms for one evening) as accompaniment, and Bakst designs that glittered uncontrollably. The witless performances, alas, did not, though Nikolai Tsiskaridze in blue maquillage, gold fingernails and a costume resembling an upholsterer’s nightmare, was a remarkable sight.

A revival of The Firebird (with its first decorations by Golovin horrendously lit) was feebly unconvincing, save for Ilya Kuznetsov’s brave account of Ivan Tsarevich. Diaghilev everywhere betrayed rather than celebrated.  

London Coliseum (ENO)

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