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2, 7-23: Petersburg on the Hudson
With "Jewels," Kirov/Maryinsky Brings Balanchine Home
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- George Balanchine's
"Jewels" is a dream of history, a distillation of memories. A central part of
that history, those memories, is the ballet of St. Petersburg, in which Balanchine
grew up and to which he returned again and again even in his most modern, most
radical works. It was a mesmerizing circling about of history last week at the
Metropolitan Opera House as the Kirov Ballet -- the Maryinsky of Balanchine's
youth -- closed its season at the Lincoln Center Festival with its New York debut
in this ballet. The Kirov has been dancing "Jewels" for thirteen years; this city
has not seen it since the New York City Ballet presented it three years ago. Last
Thursday, the Kirov of 2002 performed this great work of 1967 in a way that brought
us -- as through a jeweler's loupe -- breathtakingly close to the memories Balanchine
summons up in "Jewels."
By "close," I mean that these dancers
do not share the degree of remove from the ballet's sources that Balanchine's
own dancers had. His dancers were Americans looking into a kaleidoscope, seeing
where they themselves came from, the colors of centuries lighting up their eyes;
these dancers look into the ballet and see their own reflections directly, which
gives the work a fascinating (if somewhat less subtle) look. The French perfume
of "Emeralds," the first section in this three-act work, set to music from Gabriel
Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande" and "Shylock," has as its base note both the aesthetic
of Mallarme and Debussy and its precursor, Romanticism -- the same Romanticism
that inspired so much of nineteenth-century Russian ballet (think of the Wilis,
those ladies of the forest). "Diamonds," the third act, is Petipa through and
through; its music is Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 in D major (composed just before
"Swan Lake"). In the middle is riotous "Rubies," to Stravinsky's Capriccio for
Piano and Orchestra, in which classic ballet is flexed and jazzed and hotted up:
the Russian court meets the Big Apple.
It was in "Rubies" that the Kirov
put on its best show, tearing into Balanchine's inversions and jokes like birthday
cake. This act can't but be a showstopper; it's one of Balanchine's most delectable
concoctions, a reminder that he once choreographed for Broadway and Hollywood,
a delicious brew of temptation and elation. Stravinsky's strict rhythms are those
of the subway -- clack-clack, screech, and whoosh -- and the way the corps dancers
stuck to them gave this performance a thrilling exactitude.
Diana Vishneva, in the role originated
by Patricia McBride, looked startlingly "American" -- bold and bawdy, but sweetly
so. With a sway in her back and her head tossed up, Vishneva pranced and bolted
like a prize pony. She looked more at home in the part's punchy cakewalks than
many American dancers do. And with her impeccable Russian training, she brought
Balanchine's jokes into high relief, so that every flexed foot was precisely what
it was not: a pointed foot. By the end of her brassy, seductive pas de deux with
Viacheslav Samodurov, she had the audience screaming. In the second female lead,
Sofia Gumerova was game, but not rangy enough to make the role's big strides look
easy. Samodurov gave a hearty if somewhat clenched performance, full of high twisting
jumps, of the street-tough male role created for Edward Villella.
With its wash of green and its gentle
melodies, "Emeralds" is as different from "Rubies" as it could be, yet it shares
with the second act something it also shares with "Diamonds": a heraldic dimension;
a flicker of legends; an iconic pageantry. This ballet is often described as seeming
to take place underwater, and indeed in the opening moments the arms of the corps
wave like seaweed -- pale, floating, timeless. The women look like water maidens,
mermaids singing out of the sea. Some have seen a forest, too; when a man and
two women (on Thursday, Anton Korsakov, Xenia Ostreikovskaya, and the shining
Yana Selina) enter for a jaunty pas de trois, it's like a fox-hunt in the time
of the troubadours.
Then there is the ballerina's famous
"bracelets" solo -- all bourees, piques, and port de bras, sparkling and soft
as a necklace resting on a velvet cushion -- which, according to its originator,
Violette Verdy, takes place "in a bedroom." In the Verdy role, the quiet Zhanna
Ayupova -- one of the Kirov's more traditional dancers (no ear-kicking extensions
for her) -- was sylphlike and flirtatious, with pillowy jumps and a mysterious
smile. The second ballerina's role is more various, more searching. She traverses
the stage in a waltz, tipping on and off her toes, then enters again with a partner,
leaning on his arm, walking on pointe down a path that seems unknown to him. Veronika
Part (who joins American Ballet Theatre as a soloist next week) seemed unsure
of the music in this role on Thursday night; her phrasing was her own, not Faure's,
and in her solo the floating off pointe was more like falling. But her amplitude
and warmth made me want to see her in the part again.
"Diamonds" opens with a long polonaise
in which the corps, in white tutus encrusted with jewels, arranges itself in ropes
and strands and pendants. (There was a slightly beige hue to their tutus, the
one mistake in the otherwise perfect recreation by Holly Hynes of Karinska's costumes.)
This passage usually seems interminable; we know we're just waiting for the ballerina
to arrive. In the Kirov's hands, its full Russian grandeur was revealed. The line
to "Diamonds" from the company's "Swan Lake" a week before was very clear -- and
thus the line from Petipa to Balanchine.
Like so many Balanchine works, "Jewels"
is full of inscrutable women, but none is as much her own world as the ballerina
in "Diamonds." In this act, unlike the others, the woman's role is not split between
two dancers. There is only one woman here -- indeed, it's almost as if there is
only one person, and all the others are the sparkles from her single perfect stone.
She contains everything; what she reveals depends on how she chooses to turn in
the light. Perhaps more than any other, this role is identified with Suzanne Farrell,
for whom it was created. It has been difficult for other dancers to make an impression
in it, but Svetlana Zakharova -- as different a dancer from Farrell as can be
imagined -- had no difficulty.
Zakharova's body is chiseled, her
bearing that of a princess, and in the pas de deux that is the heart of the entire
evening she spoke (as it were) in full, clear sentences. She is not an introspective
dancer; her movement is less "organic," more full of poses, than one might wish.
But here, with her slightly hard edge, she unspooled Balanchine's steps like a
fine silver thread, glinting and serene. She drew the audience very deep into
her spell, growing ever more distilled, ever more remote in concentrated legato.
When, at the end, a reverent Danila Korsuntsev knelt at her feet and kissed her
hand, it could not have been a more natural gesture. Both of them overemphasized
their solos after this, throwing themselves off balance, but the finale was a
rush of joy, corps and principals in breathless union. This "Diamonds" was the
completion of Zakharova's performance as Odette a week ago. In more ways than one, this "Jewels"
was like a homecoming.
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