‘The Four Temperaments’, ‘La Valse’, ‘Ballet Imperial’
Slow start, triumphant finish
December 22, 2004 – Festspielhaus, Baden Baden, Germany
The Kirov Ballet’s winter season in Baden Baden is now becoming something of a tradition, and this Christmas I traveled to that very friendly German town for the first time, thanks to Ryanair thoughtfully providing new direct flights from London to Baden-Karlsruhe and making the journey a piece of cake.
The imposing Festspielhaus theatre is constructed out of the façade of the ornate 19th century railway station building dating from when the town was one of the most fashionable destinations in Europe. Dostoyevsky played the tables at the famous casino there where he lost heavily and was inspired to write “The Gambler”. I also tried my hand at roulette and also lost: nice to have something in common with Dostoyevsky.
Although the front of the Festspielhaus is old, the theatre interior is brand spanking new, with a vast stage that gladdens the hearts of balletomanes and allows productions to be seen at their best. The first programme was the Balanchine triple bill of “The Four Temperaments”, “La Valse” and “Ballet Imperial”, which on paper looked a real treat but in reality was a tad disappointing. The problem was that “The Four Temperaments” was danced rather badly on opening night, the low spot of an indifferent performance being a particularly clumsy fall caused entirely by very careless partnering. The poor girl involved recovered quickly but a downbeat atmosphere prevailed: not a performance for the company to be proud of. On the second night things improved noticeably, but somehow the Kirov didn’t seem able to catch the mood of this piece.
“La Valse” followed and was graced by the presence of Yuliana Lopatkina in the leading role. Lopatkina’s appearances are now few and far between and there was a tangible feeling of collective excitement on this night when the Kirov’s prima was billed to dance. In this ‘death and the maiden’ concept, the enigmatic Lopatkina was perfect as the young woman singled out by a handsome man who turns out to be death himself. Balanchine’s “La Valse” is actually two compositions by Ravel as La Valse is preceded in this work by his Valses nobles et sentimentales making it longer than the version by Ashton with which I am familiar. There is a distinctive early fifties feel about the ballet with the three female soloists in the ballet’s opening wearing the ‘ballerina length’ gowns and evening gloves so typical of the period. They also had hairstyles that put me very much in mind of Moira Shearer in “The Red Shoes”. All danced well, but Lopatkina was mesmerizing: what is it about this dancer that seems to elevate her to another plane? She has a narrow repertoire, rations her performances and has been plagued by injury throughout her career and yet she inspires almost a cult following, with fans converging from across Europe to see her. It’s impossible to analyze her dancing: one can only accept that she is one of those exceptional artists blessed by the gods.
“Ballet Imperial” was the third Balanchine ballet of the evening, and I can’t think of a work more suited to the Kirov. They have already made “Serenade” their own, possibly because of a natural affinity with Tchaikovsky, and “Ballet Imperial” danced to Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto would seem to me to be ideal for them in the way it recalls the Maryiinsky of Balanchine’s youth. Although the evening had started rather unfortunately, the Kirov dancers swung into top gear for this challenging work, led by the very youthful and technically secure Victoria Tereshkina who simply dazzled in the leading role. Her partner Andrian Fadeyev made a romantic, courtly cavalier and the corps de ballet was on top form. After such an uncharacteristic shaky start, they managed to finish with a triumph.
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