featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

More Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review, 8-17: Siren Songs & Waltzes
Maryinsky Meets More Balanchine

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2005 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- The Maryinsky (Kirov) Ballet, presented by Victor Hochhauser at the Royal Opera House, included a whole evening of short Balanchine works, "Ballet Imperial," "La Valse," and "Prodigal Son."

"La Valse," created in 1951 to Ravel's haunting compositions "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and "La Valse," is a chilling little ballet, depicting ballroom dancers in a desolate and suggestively gothic-style ballroom, decked out with long black curtains which fall ominously from the lighting fixtures. The uninvited figure of death arrives and claims his victim, who stands out from the others in a long white tutu, while placing her partner and other dancers under a spell. Uliana Lopatkina danced the role of the helpless maiden on July 26, the night I caught the program, while the figure of death (the performer was not identified in the program) is a grim and looming presence rather than a dancing one. Death, a sinister and imposing character with frozen features, appears towards the end of the ballet, observing the flamboyant action. He stands rigidly composed before bewitching Lopatkina, presents her with a black necklace, gloves, cloak and black flowers and then dances her to death, while the rest of the dancers lie motionless on the floor in a demonic circle. Images of witchcraft, myths and legends abound.

Balanchine drew on the Viennese Waltz and its various forms, inspired by the decadence of the balls held in the Imperial Court of Vienna in the mid-1800s. The actual choreography, while it looks like variations of a waltz which gradually seems to disintegrate, is less intriguing than the macabre subject, which is really a ghost story. The music is largely responsible for the spooky ambience, as the big booming brass sections convey frantic, hysterical energy while the more muted sections suggest chaos and foreboding. The program notes include that Ravel composed the music four years before the Great War, but "La Valse" could herald the decline of a civilization or the inevitability of death when we least expect it.

Lopatkina is a figure of perfection, however the decorative but passive role doesn't do her any particular favors, as it requires technique rather than spirit. What does come over in general with the performance of this ballet is a passionless display of technical brilliance in which the dancers seem unchallenged.

The biblically inspired "Prodigal Son," a ballet in three scenes Balanchine created in 1929 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, at the suggestion of Boris Kochno, is a far more dynamic and unusual work and consequently shows off the dancers in a more favorable light. Andrei Merkuriev does justice to his massively athletic title role while Daria Pavlenko, as the Siren, the temptress who seduces him, is erotically captivating. Prokofiev's rousing score is matched by Balanchine's testosterone-fueled choreography, which draws on circus acts and gymnastics. With Alexander Schervashidze's backdrop, the overall design is geometrically Modernist.

The characters who lead the son astray are grotesque, in particular the 'no-gooders,' bald-headed eunuchs who entice him to feasting and a lapse into debauchery. They leap up and down like mutant toads and often perform back to back with arms interlocked as if stuck together. The son is depicted as a typical 'lad,' immature and emotionally naive, who leaps and jumps out of his wise old father's patriarchal control; there is no doubt that this ballet is macho. It's about men, performed by men and for men, therefore the Siren's role is particularly welcome, even if she falls into the male-defined cliche of being an object of desire. With a snake-like aesthetic, Pavlenko oozes sensuality but of the ice cold, 'don't touch' variety. She appears like a super model, checks out Merkuriev, then gradually unnerves him with her strange postures and actions, such as wrapping herself up in her cloak, or mincing along the floor doubled back in a crab position. Once she has turned him into putty, she coils her phallic limbs around him in a fearsome lock. She is actually the dominating force in the ballet and represents a complex sophistication in comparison to the other characters that makes this work especially fascinating. Staging the production were Karin von Aroldingen and Paul Boos.

More Flash Reviews
Go Home