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Kirov Ballet - 'Legend of Love'
by Catherine Pawlick
May 24, 2004 --
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
In the final days before the opening
of the "Stars of the White Nights" Festival in St. Petersburg,
the Kirov offered a glimpse into Soviet-era ballets with Monday night's
performance of "Legend of Love." The three-act exemplar of Soviet
realism displayed Yuri Grigorovich's choreography at its budding, if lengthy,
best. At nearly three hours long, the story of forbidden love and self-sacrifice
remains a commentary on the Russian State's voice in the arts in the late
1950's while offering a coherent language of choreography unique to the
Grigorovich, former director of the Bolshoi Ballet, found his early beginnings
at the Vaganova School. But "Legend of Love," one of his first
choreographic works, is testament to the largesse better known at the
Bolshoi. Ensembles of men performing petit and grand allegro, ensembles
of women doing pointe work, and every dancer speaking the language of
the ballet -- as observed in their straight arms, fluttering hands, bent
elbows and knees, and flat palms -- this is the native "tongue"
of the libretto by Nazym Khikmet, set to music by Arif Melikov. Sets and
costumes bespeak the Middle-Eastern palace and village settings: Arabic
letters decorate the buildings, heads are nearly always covered, scarves
plentiful and Egyptian-type arm movements percolate throughout.
The theme of self-sacrifice is central to the libretto. Queen Mekhmeneh
Bahnu's younger sister, Princess Shyrien, is dying. A stranger enters,
claiming he can cure the princess. He demands the Queen's beauty in return,
and she obliges. Once saved, the princess is horrifed at her older sister's
disfigurement. Shyrien then falls in love with a local artist, Ferkhad,
who believes it impossible to ever dream of being with Shyrien.
Sofia Gumerova made her debut in the role of Queen Mekhmeneh Bahnu on
Monday night, an authoritative ruler clothed in a (usually) black unitard
with scarves on her head and hips. Gumerova was believable in gesture,
and her legs and feet mezmerizing in their articulation and line. Coached
by Olga Tchenchikova, she was a pleasure to watch and seemed more self-assured
in the emotions of this role than in some of her performances in "Jewels'"
in the States last fall.
In pleasant contrast to the evil queen, Yevgenia Obraztsova also debuted
in the role of Shyrien. Obraztsova is a more compact, sprightly dancer
with lean legs. She was champagne in pointe shoes, her youth and happiness
accentuated by the white unitards that identified her benevolence.
Ferkhad was danced by the strong, consistent Nikita Shcheglov. He approached
his jumps with a grandeur befitting Mukhamedov or Vasiliev, even if he
did not always achieve their same height. Likewise his partnering was
notable, aside from a few moments of unease during a gymnastic-like lift
with Gumerova at the end of the ballet.
The ensembles of men and women, befitting Kirov caliber, were pleasing
to watch, even when the group sections tended towards lengthiness. Women
clothed in ocre leggings and black skirts decorated with gold coins and
men dressed as guards or village people added to the Middle-Eastern feel
of the ballet, lending greater coherency to the libretto and the ballet's
choreographic language. Steps in the men's ensemble sections offered a
view into one of Grigorovich's later works, "Spartacus," where
renversés, large unique leaps, and synchronic steps are even more prevalent.
Grigorovich's talent for creating a believably authentic non-Russian setting
is visible in "Legend of Love."
Act Two offers another dramatic conflict. The village people have no water
and have to cut through a mountain in order to procure more. The Queen,
it so happens, is also in love with Ferkhad, who meanwhile has found his
true love in the Queen's sister. The Princess leaves the palace in order
to be with Ferkhad. The Queen is told of this by the Vizir (one of the
court advisors), and enraged, she sends the guards after her sister.
Vizir was danced by Ilya Kuznetsov, who offered a persuasively wicked
conspirator to Gumerova's alternately grieving, enraged persona. At the
end of one of their pas de deux, he lifts her in a frog position above
his head, his hands under her thighs, and she balances there as he walks
across the stage. The lift, and Kuznetsov's strength, drew applause from
As the story goes, the guards find the lovers, and Shyrien entreats the
Queen to allow them to be together. The Queen agrees, but only on the
condition that Ferkhad cut through the mountain to procure water for the
people; the Queen then separates the lovers.
This ballet also has its vision scene, similar to "Bayadere"
or "Sleeping Beauty." While at the mountain, Ferkhad dreams
he sees his beloved in the water of the stream. They dance a romantic
pas de deux and then Shyrien leaves. Notable in the choreography is that
only during the second pas de deux do Shyrien and Ferkhad actually touch
each other. The first pas is entirely lacking in any physical contact
between the two lovers, but this somehow doesn't give any sense of disconnection.
It rather effectively emphasizes the lovers' longing for each other.
"Legend of Love" ends in rather Soviet fashion. After Shyrien
begs the Queen to allow them to be together, the Queen agrees, but this
time changes her part of the bargain: Ferkhad must give up his work on
the mountain and leave the people to be with Shyrien. Ferkhad cannot betray
the hopes of the people, and Shyrien also knows this. So ends the plot:
the Queen is still disfigured, the lovers separated, and the artist Ferkhad
chipping away at the mountain, because the happiness of the people is
dearer to him than Love itself. As such, the libretto offers plenty of
food for thought, especially in our current era of personal gain being
of primary interest.
Edited by Lori Ibay
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