Svetlana Zakharova is Coco Chanel

Svetlana Zakharova in 'Gabrielle Chanel' photo courtesy of CHANEL

Ballet, Fashion, Bolshoi, Chanel and Zakharova, literally everything I love on the stunning London Coliseum stage, what more could I wish for!

The monochromatic ambitious one act ballet of Coco Chanel’s life is uber stylish, filled with divine costumes, interactive staging, striking lighting and video projections of the designer’s words and images from her life.

Gabrielle Chanel choreographed by Yuri Possokhov opens with a single upholstered lounge chair on a dark stage lit by a spotlight, Svetlana Zakharova sits legs crossed, cigarette in hand with true elegance as she exudes the confidence and poise of the infamous Coco. A black and white video is projected showing a young Gabrielle; Coco stands looking at her youthful reflection which is lifted to reveal the beginning of the story of Chanel’s life.

Through beautiful contemporary ballet, we are taken on a journey through her transformation from Gabrielle to the celebrated fashion icon, Coco Chanel. Possokhov’s movements highlight Zakharova’s natural grace, her glorious extensions, her precise technical skill and absorbing artistry. Her lines are as endless as her développés, her every movement and gesture flawless as she beautifully performs the abstract and classical steps with equal elegance and perfection. And while the supporting cast of Bolshoi dancers are impressive, all eyes are on the breathtaking Zakharova.

Svetlana Zakharova in 'Gabrielle Chanel' photo courtesy of CHANEL
Svetlana Zakharova in ‘Gabrielle Chanel’ photo courtesy of CHANEL

The prima ballerina poured herself into Chanel as the formidable, creative genius, who transformed female fashion and forged her signature style. With costumes designed by Chanel, we are shown a catwalk collection of black and white check, two piece suits, pared back dresses, drapes of pearls and striped swimwear.

Fashion-infused scenes reveal the love affair with muse Arthur Capel, through a heartfelt pas de deux with divine Jacopo Tissi. Coco Chanel No. 5 perfume is celebrated with clear bottles dancing with her Bolshoi ballerina assistants who perform with panache.

The influence of ballet and fashion is showcased through the creative collaboration of Chanel and Diaghilev for Ballets Russes with a fashion inspired exert from Apollo and three muses in white tutus. Chanel’s take on swimwear was revealed in a synchronised swimming extravaganza that was reminiscent of the old black and white dance and swimming movies of the era.

Svetlana Zakharova in ‘Gabrielle Chanel’ photo courtesy of CHANEL

With each scene came another stunning costume from long white tennis dresses, the iconic little black dress to layered gowns and models stripped of excess puff freeing the female form and creating Coco’s casual feminine style. With the intense gaze of Chanel herself, Zakharova strut onto the stage, hips forward, shoulders back, head high in long trousers, a classic breton striped top, as she adjusted fabric surrounded by her assistants and ateliers creating her couture collections.

Zakharova’s dramatic portrayal of Chanel is rich as she weaves the complexities of this exceptional woman into her exceptional performance that is filled with explosive movements of hyper split jetes, fast pirouettes, and expressive gestures illuminated like a black and white fashion photo fit for the cover of Vogue. This stunning one act ballet is full of drama, design, love, decadence, beauty and style that befits the memory of the woman simply known as Coco.

Come un Respiro choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti opened the programme with 16 dancers; the men bare chested in trousers and the women in corseted tutu-esque creations with circles of fabric sitting on the dancers’ hips in a range of muted tones. In the centre in stark black, Svetlana Zakharova led the abstract contemporary ballet that celebrated the physical form and physical prowess of the Bolshoi dancers. Set to the piano score of Handel, the quirky movement adorned with flexed hands and feet, body rolls and fast spins and super high extensions, created a continuous ripple of long lean ballet bodies. And with Zakharova on stage, the choreography soared with her sublime physical capability and commanding presence that literally makes the heart skip a beat. This piece is an indulgence of balletic skill, there’s no story, just a constant stream of superb performances of interesting shapes created individually and collectively in the monochromatic essence of the evening that gave two impressive UK premieres that I can’t wait to see again.

Reviewed 3 November 2019.