Thamar/Scheherazade, Coliseum, London

During a US tour by the Ballets Russes in 1916, the impresario was identified by a police captain in Kansas City as “Dogleaf”. And the lamentable Diaghilev Festival of Ballets Russes stagings that occupied the Coliseum stage last week is better seen as commemorating the work of Dogleaf than of Diaghilev.

Thamar and Scheherazade, early exotica from Mikhail Fokine and Léon Bakst, were crude travesties as offered by the workaday Kremlin Ballet and its guests, buoyed up on assured performances of their Balakirev and Rimsky scores by the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Titov.

Thamar (which, pace Andris Liepa, who masterminds this dismal event, survived in performance into the 1930s) was a drama set in Georgia. It boasted a tremendous decor of arching brickwork to house the gory tale of the Georgian Queen who lured men to their doom – death being preceded by a night of no little passion. There is a superb painting by Glyn Philpot of the divine Tamara Karsavina, who was Thamar at the first performance, expressing the whole of the ballet’s drama in a thrilling pose. No trace of this, or of Fokine’s dances, on this sorry occasion. Instead, vulgarity of style (Thamar, coarsely impersonated by Irma Nioradze as a proto-poledancer), inadequacy of step in risible dances by a Lithuanian ballet-master, Jurijus Smoriginas, laser effects, and vivacious mumming from the dancers trapped in it. The elegant Ilya Kuznetsov, from the Mariinsky Ballet, was a hapless victim as Thamar’s lover-for-a-night and as prisoner of this insolent event.

About the succeeding Scheherazade I report that it boasts some links to the Ballets Russes version, and that amid an unlikely throng of supporting dancers, Ilze Liepa (as a posturing Zobeide) and Nikolay Tsiskaridze (as the Golden Slave, or something in the environs) indulge in a “my rocks are flashier than your rocks” contest, which is their substitute for dramatic performance and any credibility as artists. Tsiskaridze wins hands down, with a generous diamanté bra, bigger bracelets, a sparkling girdle and collar, an aigrette and expressions of determined lust. An evening rootless, vulgar, a travesty of everything that we believe the Ballets Russes stagings to have been.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.