Dance for Ukraine review — high emotion and fabulous dancing

London Palladium

The war may be raging in Ukraine two years after the Russian invasion, but dancers in Kyiv are still dancing as best they can in dire circumstances. Hopefully this gala organised by the British-based Ukrainian dancer Ivan Putrov (who mounted a similar one in 2022) will go some way towards raising their spirits.

More than two dozen artists — many of them Ukrainians and Russians working abroad — travelled from as far away as Japan and Canada to take part in Dance for Ukraine, a fundraising initiative to support young dancers in Ukraine and help to underwrite a new production of Frederick Ashton’s delightful rom-com La fille mal gardée (gifted to the Ukrainian National Ballet by Jean-Pierre Gasquet, who owns the rights).

There was strong representation from the UK with dancers from English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, the Russell Maliphant Dance Company and the Royal Ballet — Putrov’s old company — and works by British choreographers Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Wheeldon, David Dawson, Andrew McNicol and Maliphant.

We had Sabine Stroksa and Philip Fedulov (from Latvia) performing Ashton’s ribbon dance from La fille mal gardée with aplomb (even if the ribbons were devilishly hard to control), and for comparison a rare look at the Russian Fille, choreographed by Gorsky and Petipa and danced with enormous good cheer by Francesca Velicu and Dmitry Zagrebin.

It was a long and low-tech affair but chock-full of goodies —15 solos, duets and trios. Impossible to namecheck them all, but inevitably there were standout moments of high emotion and fabulous dancing. The Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Kseniia Nikolaieva led her country’s national anthem at the start, followed by the solemnly beautiful Prayer for Ukraine sung by members of the Royal Opera Chorus. Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball delivered sumptuous passion in the balcony scene from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, their Royal Ballet colleagues Marianela Nuñez and Lukas Braendsrod were mesmerising in the enraptured seduction of Wheeldon’s After the Rain. And the Le Corsaire pas de trois was performed with enormous zest by Marianna Tsembenhoi, Luca Acri and Vladyslav Bosenko.

The Bolshoi star Olga Smirnova — who fled Moscow after speaking out against the war — dazzled us with the grandeur and fragility of her Dying Swan solo, then went full camp vamp in the Carmen Suite (by Alberto Alonso), her flirty, flashy moves the perfect match to Denis Matvienko’s hilariously over-the-top strutting.

And the wow factor? That was Volodymyr Kutuzov (from the Ukrainian National Ballet), sensational in the gymnastic Gopak solo from Taras Bulba. A gold-medal performance if ever I saw one.

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