Anastasia Volochkova, The Coliseum, London

A once-shining star stages her comeback with trashy material

Reviewed,Jenny Gilbert
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:48

She needs acting lessons; she needs advice; she needs some better material, a change of career ... these were just some of the opinions floating about as a bewildered and mildly stunned audience exited the latest showcase for a ballerina known as "the Paris Hilton of Moscow".

An evening of short Russian-made ballets mixed with bleeding chunks from popular opera, presented in an opera house lit and miked as if it were Wembley Arena, Nerve certainly showed its star has just that ... in abundance. "Colourful" hardly begins to describe the career of Anastasia Volochkova. She graduated from Russia's most distinguished ballet school and was presented by the Kirov as its most delectable "baby ballerina", set for greatness.

But the fairy tale turned into a series of tabloid headlines, as Volochkova ran through the roles of oligarch's moll, vociferous TV campaigner, and thorn in the side of the establishment. She was eventually dropped by the Bolshoi, abandoned by the millionaire, and left to revive her career while raising their child alone. Earlier this year, she again came a cropper when sacked by yet another Russian ballet company, this time for daring to stand for mayor in the town set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. (She didn't win.)

The current show is an attempt to turn those misfortunes to advantage, or so she says: "Nerve is my story ... full of my broken dreams and my eternal hope." There's no denying how hard she works to push that message. The trouble is, almost all of the 10 short ballets she dances are trashily made. At times, you wonder if the star hasn't offered to pay each choreographer on the basis of how many times they can feature her famous half-past-12 extension, the lifted leg grazing her ear, the pointed foot at the very last moment flexing into a right angle. However, repetition turns each ballet into a string of stunts – impressively brought off, for the most part, given that Volochkova is statuesquely built.

Too often, though, the athleticism is ludicrous in its context. A duet from Boris Eifman's Anna Karenina has Volochkova's desperate Anna doing a handstand balanced on Vronsky's bottom as he bends as if to tie his shoelace. The feat of spreading her legs as she does this into perfectly horizontal splits is hopelessly undermined by one's urge to giggle. Likewise when, in a solo set to Puccini's Tosca: the disco remix, she appears with black duct tape stuck across her mouth, and proceeds to writhe on the floor and gesture her distress in frantic sign language. Silenced voice, stifled spirit: poor Anastasia.

Uninvited laughter erupts several times over the two hours, especially during the gravelly spoken links between items (so heavily accented as to be unintelligible). Yet for all the lurid stage design, the frantic swivelling spotlights, the atrocious miking of the operatic excerpts and the horrible piped music, true artistry does occasionally fight through.

The tenor Vassily Efimov is particularly fine, with his pure tone, effortless high notes and ability to summon drama from thin air. Both of Volochkova's leading men, the Bolshoi's heroically brooding Rinat Arifulin and the Mariinsky's Yevgeny Ivanchenko, warranted a spot to themselves. Soprano Natalia Borozdina, whose timbre was massacred by the sound system, deserved better than the stingy single bloom proffered by Volochkova from her bouquet. The first rule of career recovery? Value your friends.

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