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Stars of the White Nights Festival
A Century of Balanchine: "Jewels"

by Catherine Pawlick

June 5, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

How long ago it seems already, when last fall the Bay Area saw the Kirov in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. While we weren't able to see the "La Bayadere" reconstruction, we were treated to the all-Fokine program, and Balanchine's "Jewels." On night four of the "Century of Balanchine" celebration in St. Petersburg, the latter ballet was offered as ode to its choreographer.

Once the viewer recovered from the dazzling backdrop of jewels hanging from the ceiling, and the sparkling costumes, what was left was the dancing, in slightly less perfect form than last fall, but performed in a more "Balanchinean" style -- with adequate abandon and jazz influence where needed.

In "Emeralds," Daria Sukhurova moved in one continuous stream, dancing with more freedom and precision than last fall. Those traits are two aspects of dancing seemingly at odds, but not in this ballet, and not in anything Balanchine. Her liquid arms were beautiful, but she added touches of hip here and there, overall providing more flow to her dancing than before. The effect was one of more centeredness in the music and choreography, and quite pleasant to watch. Her partner for the pas de deux was Dmitri Pixachov, and together they suggested the courtly splendor of "Sleeping Beauty," aided in part by Gabriel Faure's beautiful violins.

Sofia Gumerova had the first variation and managed to float through one of the pique attitudes in perfection. Her pas de deux with Denis Firsov featured the theme of time arms ticking like the hands of a clock, and then her leg doing the same, into a penchee. In sum, Gumerova appeared a bit more relaxed in the coda than in previous performances.

The trio was danced by Anton Korsakov with Yanna Selina and Svetlana Ivanova. Selina is a perky red-head, and Ivanova a calmer, smiling blonde, shorter of stature but longer of leg, and with a split jete well past 180 degrees. Together they fit well in this pas de trois.

And then there was red. "Rubies" was danced by Diana Vishneva and Leonid Sarafanov, now so at ease in their roles that the fun and personal expression -- shines through. The more one watches "Jewels," the more one begins to notice different themes in the choreography. In "Rubies," the lowest bass chords are predominantly danced by the second girl, in this case again performed by Gumerova. The higher notes, as well as the main pas de deux, are done by the leading couple (Vishneva and Sarafanov). Vishneva's arms are the most toned of any ballerina at the Kirov, and she uses "Rubies" as a playground for gymnastic effects. Her battements front nearly hit her head, and she bends, at various points, in two directions at once, always stretching, elongating, moving. Sarafanov, in like fashion, played not only with the music but with his four male counterparts, looking back at them in a large boyish grin as they traipsed around the stage in balletic runs. The pas de deux between Sarafanov and Vishneva has a new intimacy that was not before present. Having mastered the steps and even the Balanchine technique, the couple has also managed to add some personal expression to the dance. Sarafanov acts as if he is courting her, and when not a gymnastic concourse, "Rubies" reads as a passionate pas de deux.

Of course what is "Jewels" without the regal "Diamonds" to conclude the evening? Again, upon additional viewings, patterns and themes here begin to assert themselves more visibly. The arching back, a la "Swan Lake," speaks more of classical ballet than anything neoclassical, although the remainder of the steps lie clearly within Balanchine's habitual vocabulary.

As part of the "Stars of the White Nights" festival, which frequently imports guest performers from leading ballet companies, Jose Martinez of the Paris Opera Ballet guest-partnered Uliana Lopatkina, the tall, popular Kirov ballerina in "Diamonds." Their opening promenades together were gracious, and Martinez' jetes drew appreciation from the audience. Lopatkina's rendition of this section is different from other versions, more continuous, with less separation of movement. The effect is fluidity but with a loss of clarity as to the separate steps. While perhaps a more mature interpretation, depending on one's preference, there may be a predilection for a more clear, separate approach to the choreography.

It isn't clear how much rehearsing was allotted for the new partnership, but judging from their timing, they must have desired more practice . Martinez was a helpful, enthusiastic partner, but Lopatkina was on a different musical plane. The result was that much of their pas de deux was ever-so-slightly uncoordinated, and this detracted from the grandeur that "Diamonds" can hold. Luckily that grandeur was recovered in the finale procession by the corps de ballet of 16 couples, when the women don white gloves, and all parade around the stage in a courtly manner. That image, reminiscent of Imperial Russia, was an apt symbol for the classical ballet traditions that gave Mr. Balanchine his start in the world of theatre and dance.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt

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