Irek Mukhamedov

September 30, 2001

Irek Mukhamedov and Guests

London Coliseu
London, England

September 30, 2001

Reviewed by Margaret Willis

If The Royal Ballet neglected to give one of the greatest and best-loved male dancers of the last century a good send-off, his loyal fans made up for that at this gala. Performing in support of KIDS, a national charity for disabled children, Irek Mukhamedov brought together some of his good friends and partners for what he announced was his last time dancing in London.

Before the curtain went up, Mukhamedov strode onto the London Coliseum stage and in his own inimitable way, welcomed the audience to his ballet celebration and thanked them for all their support during his career in Britain. It was, he said, his chance to say goodbye to his London public. An interview in a national British newspaper a few days earlier had sparked the headline, “I Was Kicked Like a Nothing” and Mukhamedov was quoted as saying that, after eleven exciting years as a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet?where he had danced MacMillan, Ashton, Balanchine, and all the classics to great praise?his departure was not acknowledged by the powers-that-be. Normally, there is a farewell concert for such internationally acclaimed artists, but Mukhamedov, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1990 in search of artistic fulfillment, had to arrange his own gala concert. But it proved that he has been, and always will be, a very special person in the hearts of British dancegoers. (According to a ballet representative, the Royal’s new artistic director, Ross Stretton, said that he regretted any implied discourtesy when Mukhamedov was informed that his contract would not be renewed.)

One of the endearing things about Mukhamedov is his spunk. He knows that he can no longer achieve the breathtaking leaps and speed that made him famous, but he wants to try nonetheless. At 41, and expanded in girth somewhat, he showed at the gala that he can still attack choreography with zest, and with a twinkle in his eye when the going gets tough! He first danced, unscheduled, Balanchine’s Tarantella with Polish ballerina Izabella Milewska, who had learned the piece in twenty-four hours when Viviana Durante, whom Mukhamedov has frequently partnered, and with whom he was going to dance MacMillan’s Winter Dreams, had to drop out.

He then turned to a slinky Hollywood-musical style for his duet with the gorgeous Altynai Asylmuratova, a former Kirov prima ballerina and now director of the Vaganova School. The couple, dancing to Louis Armstrong’s gruff singing in Louis Armstrong (…when angels fly…), moved in unison, with soft, catlike jumps and terrific showbiz style, musicality oozing out of them. They are two of Russia’s greatest dancers, both of whom have now left the stage, and they brought down the house.

After Sita, a contemporary Indian dance with Mara Galeazzi, Mukhamedov appeared in his own choreography, Four horsemen …, a spoof on South American gauchos. Together with the Royal’s Martin Harvey and Yohei Sasaki and English National Ballet’s Yat Sen Chang, all dressed in black with black hats, it became a comic competition of macho bravura between them. Joined by ENB’s Daria Klimentova, the mood changed to romance and more comedy, especially when the rose that Mukhamedov held between his teeth unintentionally dropped off and he was left chomping on the stalk!

Mukhamedov had also choreographed the opening sequence, Sabres ‘n’ Roses, for the Arts Educational School in Tring, Hertfordshire (which his daughter Sasha attends), giving youngsters an opportunity to perform something vigorous and fun. His other guests performed extracts from Ashley Page’s Fearful Symmetries (Adam Cooper and Galeazzi), Giselle (Tamara Rojo and Slawomir Wozniak), Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloe (Miyako Yoshida and Stuart Cassidy) and Grigorovich’s Spartacus, with Cooper as Crassus and Rojo as Aegina. The grand finale was a scene from Lorca Massine’s Zorba the Greek, in which Mukhamedov was joined by Wozniak and the young students for a wild and exhausting Mediterranean party, with encore after encore. The audience gave him a standing ovation and was reluctant to let him leave the stage, fearful this truly was his last time in London.