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Kirov Ballet - Fokine Program

'Chopiniana', 'Scheherezade', 'The Firebird'

A pleasant escape

by Catherine Pawlick

October 13, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

When not accustomed to it, a sudden shift from orchestra level viewing to the third (of fourth) balcony can change one's perspective of a ballet. It was from such a vantage point that this reviewer watched Wednesday night's all-Fokine program, the first of the fall 2004 season at the Mariinsky Theatre. But while the view was different, it didn't alter one's impression of the dancing, which was in fact an improvement from some of the performances of the same program seen last fall in the States.

For those who saw it on tour (or those who didn't) the bill remains the same: the classical "Chopiniana," followed by the tempestuous "Scheherezade" and closing with the fairytale-like "Firebird." Tonight's casting included some new and some more seasoned names from the company roster.

The red-haired Yanna Selina, clearly considered an up-and-comer by the company administration, led the eleventh waltz in "Chopiniana." Selina is increasingly given soloist roles (she danced one of Kitri's friends on Sunday night), and for good reason. The long-necked, perfect-postured dancer with beautifully arched feet has a remarkable amount of strength and control. Her releve attitude turns in the ballet involved no forward shift in the torso in preparation, which is commonly used simply to gain momentum from a static position. Selina's turns however resulted in a plie-releve-glide combination, causing one to ponder where she get such strength.

Irina Zhelonkina partnered with the eternally princely Evgeni Ivanchenko in the Mazurka. There were few problems for the two of them, but that seems mostly due to Ivanchenko. He makes partners look good, not simply because of his own good looks, pretty pretty feet and long lines compliment nearly any ballerina -- but because his lifts are weightless and his attention always directed at his partner.

Zhelonkina managed a perfect arabesque balance towards the beginning of the ballet, and despite overly soft (and consequently unflattering) shoes, appeared consistent and light.

The prelude was danced slightly unevenly by Ksenia Ostreikovskaya, a lovely blonde new to this role. While there were promising elements -- her epaulement was romantic enough -- there were some stilted moments as well. She didn't take advantage of the ultra-slow tempo to pause (or nearly stop) in some of the poses. This was not a Pavlenko Prelude although one wanted it to be. With a few more performances however, Ostreikovskaya may have it mastered.

The line patterns in "Chopiniana" are a salve for both eye and brain, especially when seen from above. Those who aren't as keen on seeing dancers' feet or faces up close would do well to watch the structure of the choreography from on high, for it is one of the charms of this ballet that is somewhat lost from orchestra view.

The seven-minute overture to "Scheherezade" was balanced by fives minutes of group and then solo curtain calls for Yulia Makhalina and partner Farukh Ruzimatov following the conclusion of the ballet. The sultry sultan's enclaves featured the requisite bejeweled young maidens and turbaned masters of the house. Makhalina is of course the beautiful princess, mostly cold to Ruzimatov's advances. Ruzimatov, in turn is the smoldering slave, passoniately urgent in his love for her. When she hands him a cup from which to drink, he nearly inhales its contents as if it is his life source and as if, somehow, it is part of her. He kisses her pant legs, her clothing, her skin -- anything he can. More of his feline nature actually reappeared in this ballet, prompting one to think in fact nothing has been lost with his continued years on stage. (Following his excellent Basil on Sunday night, one was nonetheless slightly tempted to think otherwise). Tonight he was once again the arched-back middle eastern lover, all fiery, slithery desire, his attitude turns creating two circles at once, that of the turn, and that of the line between his back and his foot. He is stunning in this role, as witnessed by the audience's ongoing applause.

Likewise Makhalina sparkled more in this role than she had in, for example, the pas de deux excerpt from "Manon" this summer. Her developpe to the side went past her ear and it was reassuring to see that at least in some roles she can still shine.

Still more "names" appeared during the evening. Irma Nioriadze pleased the audience greatly in the title role of "The Firebird" . Her flashy, flighty, hopeful, energetic firebird was everything that an aviary creature should be. She too eclipsed the mediocre performance she gave during the summer, and in this ballet seemed to become the feisty airborne creature. Her quick flits of wrist, head and hand were not only musical but believable.

Nioradze danced against Andrei Yakovlev's young Tsarevitch, and the pair don't quite fit each other. Yakovlev's slightly portly physique, short neck and overdone acting don't make for a believable Ivan Tsarevitch. One would hope to see Victor Baranov in the role (he danced it during last year's tour). Ivanchenko or even Danila Korsuntsev would be other great choices for the role, and it isn't clear why Yakovlev is repeatedly cast.

The Tsarina princess was danced by Anastasia Vasiletz. Innocent, polite and feminine in manner, she connoted most of what the role requires, but there was a certain je ne sais quoi missing. Whether, perhaps due to Yakovlev's Tsarevitch, or perhaps due to the limits of the role itself, (little dancing really involved, but much mime), it is difficult to say.

However, hope springs eternal and hope appears last, and so it is in this ballet too. The end of the "Firebird" showed the 12 guards waking up at the castle gate, the spell broken, and their 12 respective maidens joining them to live happily ever after, led by the Tsar and Tsarina as the model couple. If only life were a bit more like ballet.

Edited by Jeff.

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