The brainchild of the indefatigable Andris Liepa, Les Saisons Russes XXI aims to present an unprecedented number of ballets created under Serge Diaghilev between 1909 and 1929, widely regarded as the Golden Age of his groundbreaking company, Ballets Russes. With dancers from the Kremlin Ballet theatre company, plus guest artists from the Marinsky and Bolshoi ballets, it is a a dream project and a hot ticket for fans of Diaghilev’s gang.
Alexandra Timofeyeva (Firebird) in Programme 1 of the Diaghilev Festival at London Coliseum Photo: Tristram Kenton
Programme 1 delivers one lost curio and one eternal classic, both by Michel Fokine.
Pieced together from fragments, designs, letters and educated guesswork, The Blue God is one of Fokine’s more extreme experiments in exoticism. Based on a libretto by Cocteau with a score by Scriabin replacing the original by Reinaldo Hahn, this has been reimagined by ENB’s Wayne Eagling. While it is dominated by extraordinary colourful visuals, largely based on Leon Bakst’s original designs, it is a fairly wobbly edifice involving Indian slave girls, monstrous priests and a pair of gods in blue. Seemingly overwhelmed by the set and costumes, Eagling has not quite found his way through the thicket of IndoRussian imagery though Natalia Balakhnicheva as the Young Girl has a darting, quicksilver style that is tremendously attractive. Bolshoi star Ilze Liepa goes into Tallulah Bankhead mode as The Goddess of the Lotus as if Eagling was aiming for a silent movie effect. For collectors only.
The Firebird, however is first rate. A stunning recreation of the 1910 original - with the exception of the Firebird’s red tutu costume, a later addition - it romps across the stage with gusto and infectious energy. Alexandra Timofeyeva makes a strong - if not particularly vulnerable - Firebird and Fokine’s management of his ensembles is wonderfully represented, combining demonic mayhem with angelic formations of the white-clad Princesses. The apple-throwing scene (always a slightly worrying sequence) was amusing but the climax was appropriately majestic.