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Stars of the White Nights Festival
A Century of Balanchine: "Donizetti Variations,"
"Concerto Barocco" and "La Sonnambula"
by Catherine Pawlick
June 4, 2004 -- Mariinsky
Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
The third evening
of St Petersburg's Balanchine Festival continued with three Balanchine
ballets, all performed by the P. I. Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet Theatre on
the Mariinsky stage. Despite the frequent punctuation of the performance
with Vaganova style, the Perm dancers are to be commended for their courage
in taking on this task.
Set to music by the composer of the same name, "Donizetti Variations,"
the first piece of the evening, is a "pretty" ballet. Judging
from the Giselle-like peasant costumes one might conclude, at first glance,
that this is an early Balanchine work -- and one would be incorrect. The
work was first created in 1960, after the ballet divertissement from the
opera "Don Sebastian," and the visual emphasis is on form and
pattern. For example, the cannon of three couples performing the same
steps one count apart (pirouette to arabesque, penchee, fifth, repeat)
outlines the layers within the musical structure--one of Balanchines great
Overall the ballet, as performed Friday night by the Perm Ballet, was
so courtly and polite as to be unremarkable, and, as several former New
York City Ballet principals in attendance noted, the sense of humor that
may have pervaded the piece in New York versions was absent. Nonetheless
the choreography was pleasing to watch. Of note was the xylophone section
performed by three men, Nikolai Viozhanin, Konstantin Olionin and Nikolai
Kalabin, their cabrioles well syncopated and crystal clean in an introduction
to Natalia Moiseeva's legato fouettes. Moiseeva was partnered intermittently
by the reliable Sergei Mershin.
The company likewise, gave "Concerto Barocco," a conservative
delivery. Even under American presenter Robert Cole's conducting, the
dancers appeared less jazzy and more upright. Yulia Mashkina, Natalian
Makina and Roman Geer were the leading Baroccians.
"La Sonnambula" offers an obviously meatier story line to follow
and was easily the crown of the evening. Replete with lavish court costumes,
the masked ball is well underway when the curtain opens. Vitaliy Poleshuk
danced the role of the doomed Poet, aside Natalia Makina as a rather evil
coquette and Elena Kulagina as the evasive Sleepwalker. Poleshuk's interpretation
was rather tame, and his theme seemed to be the chase. He chased, but
never captured either the Coquette or the Sleepwalker, receiving death
as his only reward.
Kulagina was an ethereal Sleepwalker,
commendable for her bourrees and ability to change momentum or direction
instantly. Makina danced elegantly, suggesting a beautiful woman fully
aware of her charms and her power over men. Her betrayal of the poet was
tangible and prompted food for thought.
The ballet's conclusion prompts a number of questions that those not equipped
with personal tutorials by Balanchine will have more difficulty answering:
why does the sleepwalker take the poet's body in the end? Is it out of
love? Or rather, is she a symbol of death itself, claiming his body after
she has already taken his soul, upon first meeting? If love, then what
other explanation could there be for accepting the body, and perhaps the
promise of love it once held, when the sleepwalker has never consciously
seen the poet? Is this a commentary on the strength of love, beyond conscious
thought? Or is the sleepwalker an angel of sorts, a benevolent if mystical
being, taking the poet back to heaven with her? Answers are not offered
in the ballet's libretto or program. The mystery of Balanchine continues.
Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.
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