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Ballet for Life

Kyiv-born Iana Salenko, a principal dancer at the Staatsballett Berlin, together with Oleksandr Shpak created their second benefit gala to support humanitarian projects in Ukraine, especially for children. “We'll keep at it,” Salenko had promised after the overwhelming success of the first “Ballet for Life” in 2022. “The suffering and death in Ukraine continue, day after day, night after night. Again and again, children are the victims of war, and the numbers are growing,” says Salenko.

Performance

“Ballet for Life”

Place

Admiralspalast, Berlin, German, April 16, 2023

Words

Veronica Posth

Iana Salenko and Marian Walter in “Les Adieux” by Eric Gauthier. Photograph by Mariia Kulchitska

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For this great cause Salenko partnered up with Kharkiv-born Shpak, also a dancer with Staatsballett Berlin and producer of “Ballet for Life.” The pair decided to focus specifically on supporting orphaned children living in Ukraine who have endured the brutal consequences of war. Again, for the second edition of this fundraising gala, all proceeds from the performance and donations will directly benefit this vulnerable group.

Iana Salenko and Marian Walter in Angelin Preljocaj’s “Le Parc.” Photograph by Mariia Kulchitska

The gala was a series of contemporary solos and duets by world renowned choreographers and performed by remarkable dancers. It began with Angelin Preljocaj's “Le Parc,” a delicate, sensual, and tender duet based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. Danced by Iana Salenko and Marian Walter, two lovers meet barefoot, clad only in white shirts. They approach one another delicately yet passionately, creating an alchemy that lures the eye.

“Infra,” originally created for the Royal Ballet, sees McGregor portraying emotions and moods through delicate choreographies. The choreography became the language through which Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball (the Royal Ballet) communicate with each other. The music, by Max Richter, was composed in parallel to McGregor’s choreography, and creates an atmospheric framework for these moments of human intimacy.

Juliette Hilaire and Caroline Osmont (Paris Opera Ballet) danced an excerpt from “Body and Soul” by Crystal Pite, created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2019. The work focuses on the dynamics of human coexistence, which often oscillates between connection and conflict. The excerpt “Whisper Duet” shows Pite’s distinctive trait for harmonious and delicate yet powerful and crafted movements.

The choreographic duo Iratxe Ansa & Igor Bacovic have achieved great international recognition in recent years under the label Metamorphosis Dance, receiving numerous awards. Their works are often characterised by a powerful and dynamic body language, requiring flawless control and strong flexibility of its performers. “Camelia,” from 2021, danced by Sephora Ferrillo and Jorge Garcia, deals with a conflicting relationship, trust, and devotion.

“Pacopepepluto” by Alejandro Cerrudo was initially created in 2011 for Hubbard Street Dance Company, Chicago. This time it was danced with fervour, enthusiasm, and agility by Shori Yamamoto, Shawn Wu and Luca Pannacci (Gauthier Dance /Theaterhaus Stuttgart). The choreography is rich with vitality, charm, and irony, and was superbly performed by the three well-rounded dancers. Energetically they alternate between agile leaps, athletic sequences, and romantic classical-poses, constantly discarding the movement they just executed. Cult songs by Dean Martin and Joe Scalissi offer the perfect audible support for an explosive, entertaining and very enjoyable dance.

Akram Khan's “Dust” (2014) explores the social changes caused by World War I, focusing on the fate of women and their need for strength, bravery and self-reliance. Erina Takahashi and James Streeter (English National Ballet) beautifully performed a duet from the work, born of a delicacy found in the balance between frailty and strength.

Iana Salenko. Photograph by Mariia Kulchitska

“Les Adieux” by Eric Gauthier brought Iana Salenko and Marian Walter back to the stage. The director of the Gauthier Dance Company from Stuttgart choreographed this duet for the two dancers, taking his inspiration from Metallica's rock classic “Nothing Else Matters.” The song was performed live by the Danish Mønsk Festival Ensemble. An Ukraine flag is part of the performance as a cover for a seemingly dead body, first hers afterwards his. A moving dialogue of pain and hopelessness unrolls in the sorrowful duet.

“Ima” by Sofia Nappi was danced by Valentin Durand and Goncalo Reis (Komoco, Italy) Inspired by the social-distancing experienced during the pandemic, Nappi presents a work where fear and frustration clash against intimacy and synchronicity. The two dancers interact with one another in a game of cat and mouse, distance and proximity, bouncing between opposing forces.

“A Sort Of . . .” (Duet) is a choreography from 1997 by Matz Ek, danced by Clotilde Tran and Lewis Turner (Staatsballett Berlin). Ek is one of the most renowned choreographers of modern dance, who made his name in the 80s inventing modern versions of great classics, such as "Giselle" and "Carmen." His movement language is powerful and clear, often combined with theatrical or everyday gestures. His work, frequently humorous and poetic, brings the absurdities of everyday life to the stage in a sometimes tragic, sometimes exhilarating way. This duet unfolds as a tender and waggish play between two friends secretly in love with one another.

“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” by William Forsythe is one of his best-known pieces and is considered a landmark in dance history. Originally created for Paris Opera Ballet, Forsythe’s choreography exhausts the technical virtuosity of classical dancers while pushing the off-balance movements of George Balanchine neoclassical style to the extreme. Yolanda Correa and Alejandro Virelles (Norway Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin) mastered the challenges of the choreography with theatrical composure, supported by the pulsating electronic sounds of Thom Willems.

“Lontano” (Trio) by Christian Spuck was danced by Michelle Willems, Cochen Aitchinson and Loïck Pireaux. Spuck is known for the distinct musicality as well as the aesthetic grace that he inspires in his dancers. The ballet “Lontano” borrows its mood from the melancholy of György Ligeti’s composition of the same title. A hint of desolation hovers in the interplay of the three dancers, while the flow creates a sense of suspended space in a timeless dimension.

Finally, the rising choreographer Arshak Ghalumyan created “Indomitable” (2023) for Iana Salenko for this second edition of “Ballet For Life.” His consistent movement style and Salenko’s ethereal grace unfold to the sound of the cover version of “Reignite,” a song about unity and cohesion. She appears as a dainty being, almost other-worldly while she emerges and recedes into the lights and the shadows on stage.

In the dreadful and hopeless scenario of war, the “Ballet for Life” project’s auspice is to aid the people of Ukraine, with the hope that the catastrophic war and its unbearable consequences will shortly come to an end.

Veronica Posth


Veronica Posth is an art historian and art and dance critic based in Berlin. She studied Art at the University and Fine Art Academy of Florence, at the University of Glasgow and at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam; and Dance in various schools and academies in Florence, London, Glasgow and Berlin. Besides reviewing art and dance for numerous printed and online magazines, Veronica also works as a dance dramaturge.

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