LAST EDITED ON 25-09-01 AT 10:22 AM (GMT)
It is eleven o’clock. As Irek Mukhamedov leads the way to the Fonteyn Studio in the Royal Opera House, a Royal Ballet company class is being given in an open-glassed studio across the corridor. It seems unusually full for a Saturday. “Everyone comes after the holidays, but it is only crazy dancers do Saturdays right through the year!” he explains. Inside the Fonteyn Studio, Daria Klimentova, Principal with English National Ballet, is waiting. She is finishing off a late (and frugal) breakfast when we arrive. She smiles, and, when I am introduced, curtseys. I am charmed.
Daria and Irek are to rehearse a short pas-de-deux from his ballet “Four Horsemen”. The music, a tango for orchestra with accordion solo, runs for just over two minutes. In this rehearsal every bar will be worked and reworked. While Daria already has a stylised impression of the steps, Irek will pencil in endless fine detail. All the while he shuttles the music tape forward and back. It is a restless piece, punctuated by staccato accordion chords with the sharpness of a striking match “Pointe, relevé, attitude” Darina stands on a single pointe and falls into Irek’s arms as her leg traces a rond de jambe à terre.
“Let me turn you for the promenade”
The atmosphere at this morning rehearsal is quite different to that on Tuesday with the boys. There is little respite for Daria for the next three hours. There are endless planes of movement to think about, not to mention the complications of the music. “It should be like this - but even faster,” exclaims Irek as he and Daria whirl through a complex twelve counts. But there is a disjunction between counts 7 and 8. Think again. “We finish with the promenade. Then da-da-da-and -- you really melt. Take your head that way, and let me turn you for the promenade”
Irek comes closer to the mirror to focus a moment on his own steps. Somehow they become too classical, too stylised. Irek sees the comic side and turns his shoulders in an exaggerated épaulment as his feet begin to flash manically. “Ashton!” he whispers conspiratorially.
Meanwhile Daria is sitting on the floor adjusting the ribbons on her pointe shoes. As she does so, Irek exclaims “Now is time to show manhood on stage!” and collapses into a set of comically exaggerated fondus, which will be the bridge to the next section.
By now they have spent more that an hour on the same few bars. “Check again – check and 1 and 2 and travel – stay as you are – down – ya – ya, one turn down, one turn rond…again slowly…. 1 slow…1 drop…1 slow…. drop…no good!
Irek stops and thinks. Movement and music are not in synch. Daria suggests dropping a movement. “No! Then we cut the music, no!”. There is a pattern I notice several times during the day when Irek hits a wall. He pauses. Sometimes it is as long as thirty seconds before his face comes alive again. By then he has found new bearings, and is confident of the way through the difficulty. He never communicates uncertainty; if one choreographic idea is not working, he will rapidly come up with another.
“OK fine, the music is ok.”
What is striking is how he interrogates every bar of the music for its possibilities. I can see that he is frustrated; he wants to decant more movement into this short pas-de-deux than the music will allow. “Maybe I need to add a piece of music?” he muses. “To give me a chance to injure myself!” replies Daria, sotto voce, as she stretches in an arabesque penchée beside the piano. Irek plays the full track. It is two minutes ten seconds. “OK fine”, he says, “the music is ok.”
Daria and Irek go back to centre. “OK. Putting you down here. You release back arm. I go. We’re still walking – da – da. So it’s – you go – ya-da; walk don’t fall; at some point we need to find a position, which is arabesque-ish. So it should be like I’m putting your arm around my neck, and you’re not grabbing my face, but saying, “may I kiss you, you sweet man!” We will find a way”.
They collapse in giggles. But there is a further problem. They need to resolve the final step. Originally Irek proposed that he should hold Daria while she reclined on his thigh, sitting on her heels. Because Daria has a cartilage injury, they need to rethink this. They remodel. Now her left leg is bent around his waist, while her right leg rests again his left leg.
“It is so complicated!”
It is time for a run-through. Daria fetches her video camera. There is a phrase on half-pointe, which she has forgotten. “It is so complicated!” she says. But this is a minor detail, Irek replies. “Do nothing. I will turn you. Just rond. That’s it!”
Meanwhile Martin Harvey of the Royal Ballet has arrived. He’s wearing a distinctly shredded pair of jazz pants. He stands precariously on the piano stool and films the run-through. It falls apart. This time Irek has forgotten a step. “He forget. Write that down!” Daria whispers to me.
“Guys, don’t die on me!”
It is two o’clock. The two other boys arrive; Yohei Sasaki, also from the Royal Ballet, and Yat Sen Chang from English National Ballet. As soon as they’ve warmed up, they run through the section they rehearsed on Tuesday. “Very good guys! ”, exclaims Irek, “Chang – not bad!!” “That’s favouritism”, Martin Harvey mutters.
Time for a pep talk. “Guys! We’re actually expecting at the show the people responsible for the Royal Variety Performance. So we might be on it. Now the thing is –if we do this as comedy, no one will laugh. We have to be very serious!”
There’s a problem. Martin isn’t warmed up. “Too much filming and coffee drinking,” he explains. He comes to the barre and begins a hasty warm-up. Daria joins him. Next Martin reprises one of his jumps. Irek comes over: “Martin! Coupé! Lift High! That’s it! You’re doing a big rond….” “I’m bring it back quickly in attitude” “Thigh up! Thigh up! There!”.
The Argentinean gaucho hats have been produced. The three boys are lying on the floor. “Guys!”, Irek shouts, “don’t die on me!” By now Irek has been in studio for three and a half hours. There is no sign of tiredness. What has changed is his studio style; the almost meditative pace of his morning rehearsal with Daria is gone. With the boys present, the atmosphere is distinctly laddish. Irek is very much the captain enthusing his team – and the boys respond.
The cast run through the entire piece. Mara Galeazzi of the Royal Ballet has come to watch. The pas-de-deux is beginning to look quite stylish now. Irek asks: “Guys is it OK? You all happy? Or Unhappy? Come on! Let’s feel like we’re not somehow struggling!”
“I remember now. It’s coming back!”
Nonetheless the piece is in pretty good shape now. The cast dissolves as the dancers discuss schedules and try to agree when they might rehearse next. Not all leave. Martin Harvey is determined to perfect his jump. As for Irek, he has now been in studio for five hours; he has still to rehearse Dharshan Singh Bullar’s ‘Sita’ with Mara Galeazzi. Irek and Mara have performed it before. They watch a video to remind them. Mara moves in virtual synch with her image on the TV screen. Not everything comes back straight away: “Chaîné, chaîné, chaîné, chaîné, chaîné – jeté”. But then?
Mara persists with her chaînés, Martin with his jumps. Every so often Irek’s mobile phone rings. It’s Masha. Amid all the rehearsals, there are still the practicalities of organising the gala to think about. Across the room Mara watches the video over and over. “I remember now; it’s coming back”. “I think it’s impossible”, Irek replies, “I don’t know how I did it. Mara, let’s do it from the beginning”.
And they do. Sita’s “architecture” could not be more distant from that of “Four Horsemen”. And it is very testing. As the dancers tense and fold in each other’s bodies, the piece moves from a geometric spikiness to real tenderness. He is lying on the ground, she in an arabesque penchée. He pulls her to him. He rolls to the side – and then crawls under her arched spine. As the final movement builds to a climax, the floor shudders as Irek jetés across the studio. Afterwards Irek apologises; “Mara, I’m sorry I scratched you and kicked you”. Mara replies: “…and I’m sorry I don’t know the timing, I’ll just follow you”. But she is still fretting about the steps, and goes to a remote corner as she reprises them over and over.
The day is done. It’s quarter to five. A week of rehearsals to go.
Full details of the Gala at the Coliseum on 30th. September in aid of the charity KIDS can be found in our special section with interviews, features and additional links. The booking line number at the London Coliseum is: 020 7632 8300
Irek's answers to your questions will appear later in the week. For the previous rehearsal notebook,
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