REVIEW: Romantic Revolution (London Palladium) ★★★

Romantic Revolution at the London Palladium was a showcase for The London Russian Ballet school alongside four extraordinarily gifted Bolshoi principal dancers. A series of highlights from some ballet classics as well as a couple of modern pieces were presented to an audience which we were told contained over 900 children from “diverse underprivileged backgrounds”.

The school prides itself on having its students train with and learn from experienced dancers, encouraging knowledge to be passed from one generation to the next. It must have been thrilling for them not only to perform in such a venue but alongside their heroes. Ekaterina Krysanova, Semyon Chudin, Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov were a joy to watch each time they stepped on stage, executing some famously challenging choreography with total control and ease and with a passion and beautifully unique interpretation of the differing roles required of them. Dmitry Antipov, a graduate of the Bolshoi and now a choreographer was equally mesmerising to watch, particularly as the angel in a piece he choreographed (“Angel”), which had a more liquid, contemporary feel to it than the classical pieces. Natalie Carter from the LRBS is a very exciting and accomplished dancer who I would love to see more of in the future. It was also wonderful – and very interesting – to see how the students, at the start of their journey, interpreted their task on stage. To see the spectrum of technique and experience in a range of dancers is something I’ve never witnessed on stage before and it was a pleasure to witness.

The presentation as a whole, however, was unsatisfying, particularly the first half. We were presented with a sort of greatest hits of ballet, zipping about all over the place, a slow clip from Swan Lake here, a modern piece there, “the one with loads of fouettees “ and then “the one with the big jumps”. Ballet is as much about stories (even if you have to concede that sometimes the stories can be silly) as it is about stunning, superhuman technique and in many cases we had only a couple of minutes with a character or characters before they had to disappear. I don’t feel the romantic theme was strong enough to link everything into a coherent whole. Excerpts from Carmen and Don Quixote were so exciting and dynamic that the slower pieces suffered in comparison. Perhaps a mixed bill would have worked better and would surely have still held the audience’s attention.

I’m not sure if the whole thing wasn’t thrown together in a somewhat of a rush. The backdrop was an unironed white sheet (I kept thinking, “this is the Bolshoi! How about better staging?!) The wings were left wide open in places. Seeing dancers backstage (or later on some chap in jeans!) who weren’t due on for another couple of acts obviously distracts the eye from the dancers on stage.

There was mention of the young musicians in the programme but they went mainly unused, pre-recorded music being employed in the main. For me, that was shame as they were very good when they did play.

Now to the diverse and underprivileged children. Despite the fact that most dancers come from normal or even poor backgrounds, watching it is a rich man’s activity. I can see that it is laudable to provide the opportunity to those who wouldn’t normally see it (that’s most of us to be honest; even someone on a reasonable salary can’t afford to see the big ballet companies) but I felt the way this was talked up (over and again in the press release and programme) was patronising and self-congratulatory. If you really care about the urchins, why the private party upstairs in the interval to quaff champagne and chow down on caviar?

The urchins and their teachers demonstrated admirable patience when the (lengthy) show was delayed by twenty minutes due to the stunning hubris on the part of the organisers. Instead of using the box office staff who’s job it is to dole out the tickets in an efficient manner, a group of four ladies who lunch decided they could do a better job. Along with a surprisingly polite scrum of other folk, I waited for half an hour at a desk for my ticket which never materialised – I was given a random replacement. I watched as people who had paid a small fortune were told their tickets weren’t there, as desperate queuers offered to help while backstage, performers, young and nervous and older and still full of adrenalin and nowhere to use it were kept waiting. The dancers and audience deserved better.

Reviewed by Alison Bray
Photo: Igor Zakharkin