Letters from London by Graham Watts. Ballet in the Open Air! “Ballet Under the Stars” & “Yellowstone International Arts Festival”

Ballet has come out of theatres and into the open air, a post-pandemic phenomenon that has become a growth sector in the dance world. This year, two particular al-fresco performances caught my attention: at Hatch House – a 17th Century country house set in spectacular English countryside - and, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the stunning setting of Montana’s Paradise Valley

by Ballet Magazine
Fumi Kaneko and Vadim Muntagirov dance pas de deux Grand Pas Classic. Photograph Alice Pennefather.
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Credit photo: Alice Pennefather

Any event in an English summer runs the risk of uncertain weather conditions and, although late July, “Ballet Under the Stars” set in the glorious Dutch Garden of Hatch House suffered from cold and drizzly weather conditions but all guests – who included Lourdes López, the Miami City Ballet artistic director – enjoyed a delicious haute cuisine dinner as plentiful drinks flowed to help keep the evening’s shivers at bay.

“Ballet Under the Stars” has been organised by the Covent Garden Dance Company under the leadership of Matt Brady since 2010 (although this brief three-day season is the first for three years due to the pandemic).  The 2022 programme included the Ukrainian dancers, Yulia Moskalenko and Stanislav Olshanskyi, from the National Ballet in Kyiv.

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Ballet in open air! Yulia Moskalenko and Stanislav Olshanskyi, from the National Ballet in Kyiv, escaped their war-torn city

Both dancers had escaped their war-torn city and Moskalenko was in the process of transferring to Miami (hence the presence of her new director in the audience).  They brought some topical novelty to an English audience by performing the Act 1 pas de deux from the traditional Ukrainian ballet, Forest Song, both demonstrating the strong classical elegance that the Kyiv Ballet School has made famous across the globe.   Miss Moskalenko will be a tremendous acquisition for the ballet-going public of Miami.

Another person displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the British dancer Xander Parish who left the Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg soon after the conflict began with his Russian wife, Anastasia Demidova.  Despite suffering a dreadful cold and severe bruising to his thigh, Parish persisted through the pain to dance an elegant grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty with his wife, and then returned for the very demanding and comical Ballet 101 solo by Eric Gauthier, which has become Parish’s gala calling card.  Shortly after the Hatch House event it was announced that he and Demidova were both to join Norwegian National Ballet for the new season.

Credit photo: Alice Pennefather

An important aspect of the Hatch House season is that it commissions new work through the Dicky Buckle Charity Fund (Richard Buckle was a leading dance critic in the mid-twentieth century).  This year, ENB’s long-serving First Soloist, Fabian Reimair, created Opposite Attracts to dance alongside his wife, the ENB principal ballerina, Fernanda Oliveira.  Reimair also composed the music for this memorable modern duet.

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The pair returned later in the programme to dance Ben Stevenson’s barre-based Three Preludes.  Another former ENB star, Ksenia Ovsyanick (now a principal with Staatsballet Berlin) made a special return to England, performing David Dawson’s beautiful Voices pas de deuxto the haunting music of Max Richter, alongside Timothy Dutson.

With no disrespect to any of the other outstanding artists, the highlight of the evening came in sizzling performances by The Royal Ballet principals, Vadim Muntagirov and Fumi Kaneko: firstly, in the Act 2 pas de deux from Le Corsaire before returning to conclude  proceedings in an exhilarating performance of Gsovsky’s Grand pas de deux.  It was a great end to a splendid evening of dance (although not quite the end because the Party Under the Stars extended into the wee small hours of the morning).


Ballet in open air! The 4th annual Yellowstone International Arts Festival, organized by Theresa Khan MacKay featured 20 international artists

A month later and the weather was no problem in Montana’s Paradise Valley for the 4th annual Yellowstone International Arts Festival, organised by Theresa Khan MacKay and directed by her daughter, Maria Sascha Khan, an international ballet star who was born and raised in rural Montana.  The Festival featured20 international artists who came to perform under wide open skies with the Rocky Mountains as their backdrop.

The event experience extended to include horse drawn carriage rides, living in glamping tipis and soaking in the Yellowstone Hot Springs.  Khan’s siblings include Julian MacKay, now principal at Bayerisches Staatsballett and Nadia Khan of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and unsurprisingly they were also both in action.

Photo credit: Nicholas MacKay/MacKay Productions

Ballet in open air! MacKay danced one of three world premieres in Alisher Khasanhov’s On the Other Side, performed to original music and lyrics by Matthew Kimball.

This new work by the Kazakhstani choreographer was in homage to Julian’s father Gregory MacKay who passed away from cancer two years ago. Mackay also performed a haunting White Swan pas de deux with Madison Young of Munich’s Bayerisches Staatsballett while his sister Nadia partnered Jinhao Zhang (also of Bayerisches Staatsballett) in a gorgeous pas d’eclave from Le Corsaire.

Photo credit: Nicholas MacKay/MacKay Productions

Another Khasanov world premiere was Soul of the Yellowstone, which integrated the narrative power of indigenous Native American dance alongside the elegance and grace of classical ballet. The work was perfect for the idyllic setting, themed on human life becoming one with nature, and it was performed by Maria Sascha Khan and Jesse Eagle Speaker, a traditional indigenous dancer of the Blackfoot tribe. And the last of the trilogy of world premieres was by Hungarian choreographer, Baranyai Balazs, based on the story of the mysterious World War One spy Mata Hari, which was performed by Daniel Rubin, a leading soloist of the Eifmann Ballet. The evening also featured the US premiere of Valentino Zucchetti’s Lacrimosa, performed by Violetta Komyshan.

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Ballet on open air! Maria Beck, a principal of the Stanislavsky Theatre, partnered Mariinsky Soloist Alexander Romanchikov in extracts from The Stone Flower and Carmen

Maria Beck, a principal of the Stanislavsky Theatre, partnered Mariinsky Soloist Alexander Romanchikov in extracts from The Stone Flower and Carmen and other performers included emerging stars Chloe Misseldine (a soloist at American Ballet Theatre) and Kennedy Kallas of the Nederlands Dans Theater.

Photo credit: Nicholas MacKay/MacKay Productions

Maria Beck (Principal Dancer Stanislavsky Theatre) & Alexander Romanchikov (Soloist Mariinsky Theatre) in The Stone Flower and Carmen

There were also opportunities to savour other up-and-coming talent in the form of Belgrade-born Josiah Kauffman of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre who performed with his fiancée, Erin Casale; and Bozeman-born, Isaac Hall who is completing his final year at Manhattan’s School of Music.  Ballet was not the only discipline on show against the mountainous backdrop with international opera singer Joshua Stewart, Russian violinist Polina Krasovskaya and traditional Native American indigenous dancers of the Blackfoot tribe performing in this beautiful setting.

Other outdoors galas over the summer included the third iteration of the Athelhampton House Gala, organised by The Royal Ballet’s Meaghan Grace Hinkis on 10/11 September, and the Verdens Balleten tour of various locations in Denmark, which included a performance for Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark.

These events also combined the two key ingredients of spectacular locations in summer settings with a roster of superb performers.  I’m planning next summer already!


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