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Kirov Ballet - An Evening of Balanchine

'The Four Temperaments', 'La Valse', 'Ballet Imperial'

Balanchine with nowhere to hide

by Catherine Pawlick

December 12, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

To the rather cool reception of an unpacked house Sunday night, the Kirov Ballet danced one of its Balanchine programs, a well-rounded bill in which black-and-white morphed into color, both visually and figuratively.

The black-and-white ballet was, of course, “The Four Temperaments”. This spare and bare ballet leaves much to visual and musical interpretation. There is no plot to follow, no extravagant costumes, and no story line -- aside from the temperaments depicted in each of the four sections of Stravinsky’s score. Against a plain backdrop and under a fully lit stage, the dancers are on display, showing off Balanchine’s choreography with nowhere to hide.

The Kirov dancers rose to the occasion, more or less. This is a difficult ballet and the Balanchine style is still slightly foreign to members of the troupe. However, there were moments of inspiration and no major disappointments.

Perhaps the most pleasant of surprises was Maxim Ziuzin cast as “Melancholic”. His clean technique and bright, emotive approach was a breath of fresh air on stage. The coltish Yulia Bolshakova was partnered by Ivan Popov in the Theme, and the two stood out – she for her impossibly long limbs and ability to hit each line correctly; he for his attentive partnering and strength. (the “spider crawl” at the end of their section comes to mind, in which he supports her under her arms as she extends each leg separately up-out-and-down as they move offstage). Irina Zhelonkina and Maxim Khrebtov danced Sanguinic; but their cheer was less evident than their reserve. Anton Pimonov was another beam of hope. In Phlegmatic, he was not only technically sound, but expressive even in his indifference. His energy was tangible, which made this variation quite effective and, oddly, didn’t contradict the intent of the temperament.

The corps de ballet was sufficient, musical, and accurate. There is something charming about Balanchine a la Kirov, when even a hip thrust forward looks well-placed. Balanchine devotees would perhaps gasp in horror, but this isn’t New York City Ballet, and they’re doing their best.

The second piece of the evening, “La Valse”, set to Ravel’s beautiful music, was a bold and colorful departure from the black and white abstractions of “Four Temperaments” and a ballet that nonetheless houses abstraction of its own. The man who embodies Fate – in this case, Death – is a human representation of an intangible phenomenon. Ballet is one art that tends to transpose abstract ideas – love, hate, death, birth – into live, if fleeting, physical movement. “La Valse” is an excellent example of this. The whirling couples, the undertones of sinister darkness, a feeling of impending doom – is it from the costumes, the choreography, the glances and gestures, or the music? Or perhaps all of these?

Three women begin the ballet – Ekaterina Kondaurova, Alexandra Iosifidi and Elena Androsova – all perfume and curls and gloved refinement. Among the three partnered couples, Maxim Ziuzin’s attentive, gentlemanly manner towards Sofia Gumerova was most apparent. Kissing her hands, looking at her in the eye, she smiling back at him – it is the stuff of which romance is made. Yana Selina danced elegantly alongside Maxim Khrebtov as well. And Evgenia Obratsova was smiley and fluid next to Vasilii Sherbakov.

Daria Pavlenko led the waltz, partnered by the noble Andrei Mercuriev. Luminescent, her beautifully arched feet were visible just below the length of her long white tulle skirt; her slender, gloved arms moved perfectly within the choreography. She exuded luxury and femininity, but bound with a certain sense of foreboding and evasiveness.

The manner in which the couple find each other onstage seems as fated as her death. They both turn and reach towards each other simultaneously. There is no chasing, they were simply meant to be together. In the interaction with Mercuriev just before the two begin to dance, Pavlenko’s movement seemed to say “What is it you want? Is it this?” She is not love-struck; she is strong, willful, and devastatingly beautiful.

In honorable fashion, Mercuriev was captured by her charms -- and equally devastated after her death. He looks right and left, seeking help, but the couples whirling around them remain indifferent. Fate, danced by the sinister, black-clad Islam Baimuradov, has left her lifeless, and the ongoing movement in the ballroom only underscores part of the message: This was fated, this was meant to be. The couples cannot help, no one can. Destiny has dealt its cards. And four men carry her off, overhead, in the form of a cross while the couples continue to whirl.

“Ballet Imperial” was the crown of the evening. Void of “La Valse”’s ominous undertones, we moved to pink skirts, diamond tiaras, attentive gentlemen in white and glorious choreography. Irina Golub was the soloist in pale blue; Tatiana Tkachenko danced alongside Andrian Fadeev as the leading couple. Of the two ladies, Golub impressed most. She exudes energy from her sternum, proud, sparkling, refined and self-assured. Her jetés were high and light, her dancing in general regal but approachable and warm. Tkachenko was her earthy counterpart – more grounded, less lofty. She seemed a tad out of her element, and might be more well-suited to something less regal and balletic.

Andrian Fadeev matched Golub’s ability to captivate. Fadeev is the noblest of danseur nobles. His partner could be a circus animal and you would never know it – he treats her, whoever she may be, with utter respect, adoration in his glances and care in his partnering. His own dancing is top-tier among Kirov males. His legs more well-proportioned than most, he pulls off double cabrioles with clean ease, his brisés are sharp and crisp, his pirouette perfectly centered as he slows to a stop, still en relevé. He is the dream partner, an exquisite soloist, one of the true gems among the Kirov men. “Ballet Imperial” managed to put an elegant finish on the three-work evening, taking the photographic negative of "The Four Temperaments" and transforming it into color, line and purity – what the Kirov does so well.

Edited by Jeff.

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