Review: Ballets Russes

Image credit: Anna Gawedzka

Ballets Russes is an excellent concept for exam term. Based on Sergei Diaghilev's idea first brought to the stage in 1909, the Ballets consist of four short pieces danced by a very talented ensemble with an orchestral accompaniment. It is short, sweet and a very entertaining way to spend an evening. A testament to the appeal of this genre, it was sold out first night.

As the creative director and wonderfully able dancer Anna Melkina explains in the director’s note, the Ballet Russes were designed by Diaghilev to ‘promote ballet and demonstrate Russia’s most talented dancers’. In Downing College Music Society’s offering, it is the talent of Cambridge University that is on show - as a brief read of the programme complete with the impressive dancing CVs of each dancer will tell you. The night was a great success, mixing beautifully performed pieces from well-known composers from Chopin and Debussy to Saint-Saëns and Stravinsky with enticing footwork from the ensemble.

The first of the four pieces, Après Midi d’un Faune, is a pastoral number which featured Panagiotis Boutris as a cheeky Faun who stumbles across a group of nymphs. Starting with some less classical ballet, the style was interesting and eye-catching. Each of Boutris’ shapes could have come straight off a Greek vase, which helped build the aura of the Ancient Greek World. In contrast was the classical second piece, Les Sylphides, which featured Frances Myatt in a couple dance with Boutris. This was a beautiful and romantic pas-de-deux, brilliantly executed. I can’t help but be a bit biased here - La Sylphide is my favourite ballet. Presenting the story of a Scottish sylph (fairy) who falls in love with a human, Myatt excelled and was well-complemented by Boutris to produce some accomplished lifts.

The third piece, Renard, was a fun rendition of a fable of a fox who tries to have a rooster for supper. It’s a jolly piece which the cast seemed to really enjoy performing, especially the fox, Zining Mok. The bright colours of the costuming contributed to the generally fun feel. For a grand finale, the creative director Anna Melkina, emotively danced The Dying Swan. Encore please!

The dances are bolstered by a sprightly orchestra directed by Trojan Nakade. This is the first recent ballet in Cambridge to be supported by a live music which together with the setting of the Howard Theatre in Downing made for a very wholesome production.

It was a treat to see such skilful dancers performing a range of pieces but there is only one night left to see what they can do. Book your tickets now!

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