Russian Diaghilev Gala

Sadler’s Wells

One hundred years ago, Serge Diaghilev arrived in Paris with a troupe of ballet dancers from the Tsar’s imperial company. How they looked and how they moved changed ballet for ever, as did the way Diaghilev worked – instead of cobbling together excerpts from this ballet with that hack music, he aimed much higher, commissioning concert-standard composers and daring new choreographers and got them to work with fine artists to create an artistic whole.

Unsurprisingly, there are umpteen events to celebrate his centenary visit, including a blockbuster exhibition at the V&A next year. There are also programmes from ballet companies who still perform the many productions he commissioned, plus this one-off gala featuring visiting dancers from New York, London, Paris and St Petersburg.

As with all galas, you go for the glamour and glitz rather artistic integrity. Star dancer after star dancer, including Ulyana Lopatkina, Mathias Heymann, Tamara Rojo, Dmitri Gudanov, Marianela Nunez and Andrei Batalov, came on, performed an out-of-context excerpt, and was gone again. The main benefit is that you cover a lot of ground – there’s numerous dancers in a lots of different ballets, many rarely performed.

In London, Le Tricorne and Le Carnival are almost never seen. Les Biches and Le Spectre de la Rose are also rarities. All four were performed in this gala, as was Apollo, Balanchine’ masterpiece from 1928, and The Dying Swan.

Less good was a re-imagined version of Tamar, and an excerpt from Petipa’s Swan Lake, a ballet which preceded Diaghilev by 30 years. It’s true that he staged older Russian ballets as well as new ones, but Swan Lakes are ten-a-penny.