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Review 2, 4-17: Jewels in the Pantry
Perm in Cupertino: A Classic Cramped
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
-- The Tchaikovsky Perm State Ballet Theater made its Bay Area debut
Thursday, April 10 at the Flint Center, having been to the United
States only twice before, in 2000 and 2002. I was looking forward
to seeing this company because after the Kirov/Maryinsky and the
Bolshoi Ballets it is considered to be the third-ranked Russian
company. One wonders how such a level was achieved in such an out
of the way location, but there is an explanation that finds its
roots in unfortunate circumstances.
During the siege of
Leningrad (now St. Petersburg again) in World War II, many members,
teachers and students of the Kirov Ballet and Opera were evacuated
to the more secure though isolated Perm, where they continued to
work at the historic Tchaikovsky Perm State Academic Opera and Ballet
Theater, established in 1870 and named after the famous composer
who had been born near the city. Perm is also the ancestral home
of Diaghilev family, where Serge lived as an adolescent from 1882
to 1890. The impact of such artists as ballerina assoluta Galina
Ulanova and composer Aram Khachaturian, as well as the rest of the
"refugees," changed the course of the school and company, establishing
the same high standards of training and performance found at the
Kirov. When peace finally came, some chose to remain and Perm developed
into one of the most highly regarded schools in the then Soviet
Watching this company
is like entering a time warp, though I suspect this is partly an
unintended result of performing on a stage that is really too small
to hold the production of the Petipa classic, "The Sleeping Beauty."
The company might have fared better had it brought a repertoire
that requires little in the way of stage decor. As it is, the scenery
is extending into the wings, the court aristocrats are sitting on
chairs in the wings and the ones actually dancing are so cramped
that they are not able to really extend their movements and have
the appearance of walking on eggs. It is this mincing quality that
triggers the thought that this is how the original production in
1890 might have looked, before dance took on the athletic strength
it has today -- it's something like listening to music played on
period instruments. It doesn't mean that the form is any less artistic
or genuine, only that its outward appearance isn't what we are accustomed
to. The other significant thing is that the only choreographer listed
in the program is Petipa. Having seen at least half a dozen productions
of "The Sleeping Beauty" with revisions and new choreography, I
assume, I hope correctly, that this is an unadulterated version.
But given the limitations of human memory, it is undoubtedly not
without some inadvertent evolution.
Despite the Perm Orchestra
in the pit playing Tchaikovsky's music quite well, in the Prologue
and Act I, the dancers' performance seems muted, lacking in energy,
though the corps de ballet is very clean and demonstrates the unity
of style that the other Russian companies always display. The mime
is strong and clear, though it goes on for too long at times. Fortunately
there are some highlights to save the evening. The best thing is
the dancing of Natalia Moiseeva as Aurora, followed closely by Yulia
Mashkina as the Lilac Fairy and Yaroslava Araptanova as Florine
in the Bluebird pas de deux. With Moiseeva you take her impeccable
technique for granted, because her apparent ease on stage and sunny
demeanor signal that she isn't very concerned about such mundane
matters. Instead, she brings out her musicality and emotions.
Act II suffers from
too much mime and not enough dancing. Prince Desire, danced by Vitaly
Poleschuk, has the added burden of dancing in boots with small heels.
The story book characters in Act III manage to liven up the atmosphere.
Olga Pavlova and Evgeny Rogov as the Cat and Puss in Boots, and
Yana Manomenova and Danila Lobas as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf
are delightful. The grand pas de deux should be the high point of
the ballet, but Poleschuk is on the sloppy side, though Moiseeva
dances beautifully and still lingers in my memory.
I wish to defer passing
judgment on the Perm State Ballet Theater until I see more of its
repertoire danced under better conditions. The problem of small
stages needs to be addressed in the Bay Area, as Zellerbach Hall
in Berkeley has the same problem to a lesser extent. Both the Bolshoi
and Stuttgart Ballets in "Swan Lake" and "Romeo & Juliet," respectively,
suffered because of the shallowness of that stage. Couldn't the
presenters be made aware of this pitfall and arrange for companies
to show work which doesn't rely on the large stages of their home
theaters? Also, there seemed to be problems with the floor, as several
dancers slipped rather badly and this possibly made for a tentative
air as well.
I do remember, however,
seeing the Kirov Ballet in 1985 in Los Angeles on its first American
tour in many years and being quite disappointed. While the St. Petersburg
company was technically perfect, every step executed flawlessly,
every arm in place, it was like watching fossils in museum. The
Kirov is known for having preserved the classical style, but on
that visit to the extent that it had become frozen in time, lifeless.
The only dancer who moved me was Olga Tchenchikova, a graduate of
the school in Perm! They must being doing something right to turn
out great dancers now and again. I would like to see them dance
in a setting where they can shine instead of struggle.
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