A night out at the ballet

Bolshoi prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova came to town for three nights to perform a ballet about the life of Gabrielle Chanel, with costumes created by the famed atelier

Perhaps the best thing about living in London is the availability of theatre, dance, music, and cultural events happening all over the city every night. We’ve seen Sir Ian McKellen (twice!), half the cast of Downton Abbey in performances around town, Sienna Miller making a West End appearance, and countless other theatrical performances, but we hadn’t yet made it to a ballet. The tube poster advertising Svetlana Zakharova in Chanel pants stopped us in our tracks. We love the ballet, but had only been to classical ballets (The Nutcracket every year, Swan Lake, etc). The opportunity to see an innovative performance, in collaboration with Chanel, showcasing one of the most famous prima ballerinas of the Bolshoi was too good to pass up. And that poster combing a classical ballerina with sleek white Chanel trousers! We bought tickets online (we are regular TodayTix users, but for this, we googled ‘Svetlana Zakharova’ and bought directly from the ticket office), and made an evening of it in Soho.

The first half of the performance featured Mauro Bigonzetti’s 2017 piece Come un respiro danced to Handel keyboard music. Classical ballet costumes and movements were warped and modernized, to mixed effect, though we did love the music. For the pas de deux danced by two male dancers might have been our favourite vignette. Svetlana Zakharova’s incredible extension was on full display though, and you couldn’t take your eyes off her elongated limbs whenever she appeared alongside the rest of the corps. After the intermission, it was time for the main event that everyone came for (as evidenced by the plethora of Chanel bags, bangles and necklaces in the audience). The one act performance of Gabrielle Chanel featured instantly recognizable visual motifs for fans of Chanel (that outstretched arm holding a cigarette for one), along with whimsical quotes and a theatrically danced narrative of her life (conveniently omitting some of the more controversial aspects). The stark but simple stage lighting was incredibly effective and visually, as chic as the clothes. Though some reviews sniped at style over substance, we enjoyed the performance, the costumes, and the quickly paced narrative, as did our companion¬† (who is not a fan of ballet). If you’re looking for a strictly classical evening of ballet, this isn’t it, but for fashion fanatics, or ballet fans looking for something different, it was unique and memorable.

Where to catch a pre-theatre meal in Soho is half the fun of a night out at a performance, but you should plan ahead if you want to get in. Soho restaurants are predictably and reliably packed between 5:30-7pm every night of the week with the pre-theatre crowd. We had hoped to return to Bancone for their superlative pasta, but the entry was packed and there was no hope without a prior booking. The last time we were at Duke of York theatre, the newly opened Iranian restaurant Nutshell caught our eye, so we headed there. Conveniently located next to the London Coliseum where the ballet was taking place, it was the perfect place for a last minute, pre-show meal where we wouldn’t have to sprint to the venue after. The decor is what we’ve begun to refer to as ‘modern millennial’ – dusty pink walls, sleek chrome light fixtures, graphic tiles, succulents. Instagram-baiting decor aside, the food is fantastic, the menu is filled with unique dishes you don’t see everywhere else, and it exceeded our expectations. It reminded us a bit of an Iranian Palomar. We’re already planning to return. We ordered prosecco, though they have a great cocktail menu. Standouts included the oily, doughy, and delicious bazaar bread that we dipped in smoked aubergine. The Aubergine dish arrived looking like a perfectly plated Michelin course, but exploded with flavour from the crispy shallots and tart pomegranate seeds. The Joosh Pareh oxtail dumplings with sour cherry were a surprisingly light ravioli style dish that expertly combined sweet, rich, and tart flavours. We were in and out in an hour before the ballet and will be adding this to our regular repertoire of pre-theatre favourites.

A final note on the venue itself. The London Coliseum is spectacular. We had never been inside before (though it is home to the English National Ballet). It hosts a variety of ballets and operas in an opulent gilded setting that is one of London’s most luxurious venues. We were amazed to read later that it has 2,359 seats, making it the largest theatre in London. We would have described it as a small, intimate venue. Compared to the verticality of the Playhouse Theatre (where we first understood the meaning of nosebleed seats), the layout is far better for viewing the dancers below, and doesn’t feel larger than other theatres in London. If you have a chance to view a performance here, it’s a wonderful evening out in London.

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