We are privileged to be part of the opening night of the United Ukrainian Ballet and their new production of Giselle, at the London Coliseum.
We live in times of patriotism but not of nationalism. The bringing together of two disparate cultures from the far sides of Europe into one harmony, is the testament that human nature works for all us. We can be proud of our origins. And heavens knows we have enough cause to be.
The interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s “God Save The King” as a prelude to the Ballet itself, performed by the fabulous ENO Orchestra and Singers, – that they were still practicing even as we waited sipping drinks in the foyers and bar areas – just taking your breath away by its sheer power – was balanced at the finale of Act 2, by the morphing into the National Anthem of Ukraine, sung with mesmeric conviction by the ballet ensemble and once again the control of the ENO orchestra, that encouraged at least half of the audience to stand and sing with equal resolution.
But this was not the standout feature. It beggars believe how just six months ago, none of the ballet protagonists were in London. They came from Holland, from anywhere, as refugees from their homeland, to put together this motley crew of professional performers, and that, as Matthias Bongertman writes in his programme notes, has grown to 70 people and is capable of mounting a fully staged performance of one of the mostly famous classical works – in one of the worlds leading theatres.
At an individual level, Christine Shevchenko stole the show. The subtlety of her transformation through the end of Act 1, her darting eyes and vacant expression such a contrast from the earlier happiness, was phenomenal. The Pas de Deux with Veronica Hordina and Nikita Hodyna, was sharp and enthralling.
The opening was an untypically ENO, traditional set, but you sensed there were going to be some sharp edges. In reality, the performance became more assured and almost relaxed, as it continued, there was a control and flow in the second Act. It had a very Slav flavour, of the supporting girls all dressed in white, redolent of times I have seen them perform in Kyiv itself.
This was a performance the Ballet Company had to make. It was a recognition that above all the anguish and personal emotion of each dancer, they could rise and produce something of class and star quality.
My colleague Irina Dinch writes separately on that topic in her own interviews with the performers.
Whether this could have been done with another orchestra, who knows? We have seen over the past few COVID years that ENO and the London Coliseum are inspirational in their ability to be creative. Certainly, the ENO orchestra was the glue that kept momentum, but in the same way that there were Ukrainians and Brits mingling as the audience, so the synergy of driving music and artistic ballet expression captivated all of us.
You can only imagine the work behind the scenes that has gone in to making this production – but that’s not the point. As the sad entourage of the late Queen Elizabeth 2nd came into London at the same time, we too were there on a special evening of our own.