Those well versed in the art of ballet will know the name Sergei Diaghilev. One of the most legendary figures in dance, he helped create the ballet we know today. The creator of the infamous Ballets Russes, a dance company that performed between 1909 and 1929, he was known for nurturing some of the world’s best choreographers and dancers. The company was also celebrated for collaborating with renowned artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and costume designers like Coco Chanel and Leon Bakst.

Diaghilev’s great work was commemorated on the 20th and the 21st of January at the Dubai Opera House. A highlight of the international dance calendar, the Ballet Icons Gala honors Diaghilev’s vision by bringing together industry stars and multi-award-winning principals. “It is simply beautiful to watch the differences, yet similarities in dancers from different countries and different dancing schools. How they are united on the stage by their passion and knowledge of the dance,” says Olga Balakleets, CEO of Ensemble Productions and the Founder and Artistic Director of the Ballet Icons Gala.

Dancers from the biggest companies in Russia, London, Paris, Monte-Carlo, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, and New York City have jetted into the UAE. “Dance and culture, in general, brings people together regardless of their religion and nationality,” notes Balakleets. This is true both on and off the stage. Balakleet, alongside the choreographers, has created a program that mixes classic and contemporary pieces for the show. “They are both equally important and appreciated by the dancers themselves and the audience,” she says.

“New costumes are extensively researched”

An integral part of any performance is, of course, the costumes. “It is a complex process. Some pieces are existing costumes that come from the companies of our dancers, and some costumes are specially created mostly for new contemporary choreography,” explains Balakleets. Working with several designers and costume makers, masters of their field, the pieces are put together in collaboration with the choreographers to ensure everything comes together, including how practical they are for the dancers to move in. Alongside this, the team also makes certain adjustments to respect the UAE’s culture.

New costumes are extensively researched. This includes looking at the period and style the composition is from, to the specifics of the choreography. Costume designers add their touches and interpretations too. “That is why they are so exciting and different each time,” Balakleets notes. Her favorites include the traditional Russian costumes from Petrushka and the designs used in the choreography of multi-award winner Wayne MacGregor. “The minimalistic costumes are very exotic and colorful and completely different,” she says. Elevating the already showstopping performance, the audience can’t help but be captivated the intricate designs on before them.