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Letter from New York #2, 4-25: The Russians are Coming! Without their Director!
Brave Solo Turns Highlight Uneven Kirov Programs

By Harris Green
Copyright 2008 Harris Green

NEW YORK -- The Kirov -- or, if you prefer, the Mariinsky -- Ballet managed to fit into the confines of New York's City Center by traveling light. Even its director Makhar Vaziev was left behind after apparently withering into such a Soviet-style nonperson under the dissatisfaction of artistic and general director Valery Gergiev that he wasn't even listed among the administration and staff until the final week of the April 1-20 visit.

All the evening-length Petipa classics and half the company remained in St. Petersburg. I'm told The Kingdom of Shadows -- or, if you prefer, Shades -- from Petipa's "La Bayadere" lacked its ramp. Harald Lander's "Etudes" was shorn of its kiddie corps. Fokine's "Le Spectre de la Rose" was given in a touring set so barren it looked like the ballerina (Yana Selina) had just moved in and the armchair was the only furniture that had been delivered. "Spectre" looked rather skimpy, too, as "reconstructed" by Fokine's daughter Isabelle. Compared to the tighter, more focused version danced by American Ballet Theatre, the steps seemed to be strewn all over the stage. Anton Korsakov's long-stemmed Spectre, with arms and wrists rippling like Plisetskaya's, lacked the power to pull it together. After his exit leap through the window, Korsakov was not only seen to land, he was heard to land. "The Dying Swan," not credited to anyone but Fokine, was better served by Uliana Lopatkina; her final tremor was enough to prevent this well-worn solo from being totally abandoned to the crossdressing troupes.

Fokine's "Chopiniana" -- okay, call it "Les Sylphides" -- in the 1931 "revised" version of Agripina Vaganova looked familiar, once you recovered from the jolting use of Chopin's most militant polonaise as a prelude and adjusted to lighting so incongruously bright this decorous grouping appeared to have assembled at high noon. The corps rippled and posed with touching grace. Selina and Ekatrina Osmolkina presented the Kirov tradition at its unforced lyrical best.

The Kirov Ballet in Harald Lander's "Etudes." Photo courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre.

In general, the reaction of New York's few remaining dance critics was an iconoclastic lament over the company's reduction of that tradition to a set of cool, self-conscious mannerisms -- for the ballerina. (The men get short shrift whenever Kirov style is discussed; apparently no one really expects a successor to Soloviev or Baryshnikov.) Considering that classroom dancing is all it requires, "Etudes," with its sweep through the syllabus was a clever, if wearing, way to showcase the purity of the corps' technique. The women looked alarmingly similar in manner and gifts; the men were more individual, less polished. No one lacked guts. During the grand jeté finale when Knudage Rusager's orchestration of Czerny was at its nastiest, dancer after dancer hurtled into City Center's perilously shallow stage-left wings with no reduction in momentum. Victoria Tereshkina wore the tiara with the authority and occasional look of a Kyra Nichols with attitude. Leonid Sarafanov, a beanpole like most of the male principals but fleshed out by his white costume, fired off a battery of feats with the soaring clarity of Ethan Stiefel.

The Kirov's all-Balanchine program delivered some unexpected jolts. "Serenade" was seen at its least romantic, danced in lighting bright enough to perform an autopsy under. These principals literally never let their hair down so there was little sense of abandon, much less loss in the finale. If Ekatrina Kondaurova as the "Dark Angel" hadn't been so commanding when retaking possession of her partner, the ballet would have been conventional to the very end. Merely by raising her right arm, she sent a chill through the theater. Everyone else put on a happy face at odd times, with Alina Somova in the lead being particularly insistent. The following performance with Osmolkina went better. At all times the arms of the corps were often astonishing in their eloquent unanimity. I should add that some women I spoke to insisted they always disliked watching the ballerinas "fuss with their hair."

Grins were on full display for "Rubies," but I would cut Olesia Novikova some slack if she was hitting the bliss button to be extra ingratiating. She'd had to replace not only Diana Vishneva on Friday evening, but Tereshkina at Saturday's matinee. Otherwise Novikova was as acceptable a substitute for Patricia McBride as anyone else I've seen, which is to say she only occasionally convinced you she was a sophisticated woman with a scampish streak. Her partners, Andrian Fadeev and Korsakov, had less success duplicating Edward Villella's unforced presentation of power at play. I had never noticed the gag where he seems to stumble twice before leading his "gang" around the stage until Fadeev and Korsakov overdid the step as impure slapstick. Maybe City Center didn't permit the fireworks Villella had set off circling the stage at the New York State Theater, but that sequence was certainly shy of aeronautical pizzazz. The four demi guys missed the deadpan humor in their mutual manpulation of the demi's limbs. Kondaurova presided over the end of the first part with some truly awesome penché s. Nadezhda Gonchar was not as commanding at the matinee, possibly because she was pacing herself for the more demanding demi in "Ballet Imperial" to come.

"Ballet Imperial" included a fleeting, forgettable pas de deux for the principals in the second movement which is no longer danced at City Ballet, done to the trio for piano, violin & cello that is usually cut in Western concerts and recordings. Some balletgoers with long memories welcomed its return, and a hint of "Swan Lake" romance does suit a work entitled "Ballet Imperial." But what if it's danced on a bare stage by a women's corps wearing the contemporary chiffon skirts of "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2"? (Given the way Balanchine exercised his lordly right to revise, it's probably too much to ask the George Balanchine Trust to police these matters with more consistency.) Tereshkina, partnered by the stolid Igor Kolb, was more impressive as the ballerina than the rail-thin Somova. Her partner Vladimir Shklyarov made history however. He is surely the first dancer to earn a burst of applause, apparently from a gaggle of gleeful groupies, by simply walking onto a New York stage to dance this ballet, whatever its title. Despite Shklyarov's resemblance to Angel Corella, his winning personality does not include a relentless grin; he displayed a buoyant agility in everything but lifts.

The Mariinsky Orchestra was consistently good under the direction of the reliable Mikhail Agrest. I would credit the pianist (pianists?), too, had Playbill instead of the P.A. system been the source of a name (names?). The profusion of consonants defeated my amateur stenography.


(Editor's Note: The Kirov's William Forsythe program will be treated in an upcoming Letter from Gus Solomons jr.)

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