Kirov Ballet - Celebrating Victory Day
'Serenade', 'The Dying Swan', 'Polovtsian Dances', and 'Leningrad Symphony'
Anti-war message poignant and powerful
by Catherine Pawlick
May 8, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
On the eve of May 9, termed Victory Day in Russia in honor of the end of World War II, the Mariinsky Theatre, along with many other cultural and political organizations in the country, honored the 60th anniversary of the date with a mixed ballet program that began quietly and ended on a note of pathos and strength.
"Serenade", to Tchaikovsky's hauntingly beautiful, ever-inspiring score was danced with beauty and reverence. Ksenia Ostreikovskaya danced the lead with ample veneration for steps and style. Her sweeping waltz section with Danila Korsuntsev was delivered with verve, the two of them visibly feeding off each other's energy for the prance around the stage. Ostreikovskaya was slightly overshadowed, however, by Ekaterina Osmolkina's explosive energy – emotional as well as physical – and attractive arabesque lines, which remained intriguing from her very first entrance to the ballet's close.
Sofia Gumerova appeared as the Dark Angel, both guiding and interrupting Denis Firsov's connection with Ostreikovskaya. If the dancers didn't quite accomplish the proper Dark Angel pose on downstage left, the underlying steps and timing were faithful to Balanchine's style.
Saint-Saens' "The Dying Swan" was disappointingly danced by Tatiana Amosova, whose muscular arms were no compensation for the lack of delicacy and emotion in her movement. After seeing Lopatkina's performances of "Odette", it becomes difficult to watch an amateur attempt such a well-known solo. The suddenly brisk tempo at the swan's end served only as a source of audience gratitude. There are others in the corps who would be better served being cast in role that demands such attention and responsibility.
"Polovtsian Dances", a fragment from the second act of the opera "Prince Igor" was the evening's emotional reprieve. First appearing as part of the "Russian Seasons" program shown in Paris on May 19, 1909, the program was a demonstration of Fokine's effort to create a ballet focused on the corps de ballet, rather than – as with "The Dying Swan" – a soloist. Fokine wrote, "here I tried to give an example of a dance of the masses. For this work the corps de ballet is more important than the ballerinas or soloists … To create an exciting, emotionally striking dance was an important challenge for me."
Fokine's departure from classical steps here is neither surprising nor apologetic. If the choreography appears more Arabian or character-based than classical, Borodin's music is entrancing and the dancers' energy, on which the bulk of this ballet's success depends, is catching. This very short but colorful ballet is pure entertainment. Islam Baimuradov carried forward the leading male role with abandon, and Galina Raxmanova drew ample applause for her spirited dancing as well.
The premiere of "Leningrad Symphony" took place April 14, 1961 on the Kirov stage, a good sixteen years after the victory that it commemorates. Set to the music from the first part of Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, it quickly became a milestone of Soviet ballet in the beginning of the 1960s. The one-act ballet was choreographed by Igor Belsky to commemorate the struggle with the Germans, to celebrate the victory over fascism, and to honor those who perished in Russia – over 20 million.
The musical score itself was composed in the grave days of the siege of Leningrad. As the program states of the famous score, "The whole world heard in it the pathos of hatred of fascism, the grief for those who died and the faith in future victory." The idea behind the ballet's creation was that history should not repeat itself.
"Leningrad Symphony" is said to have surpassed many full-act ballets in its strength and high-caliber, and the impressions it offered during this performance were no different. Its premiere performance featured Yuri Soloviev and Oleg Sokolov as the Youth and Alla Sizova and Gabriela Komleva as the Girl – setting quite a standard for future dancers to live up to.
The symbolism is apparent: the Russian men enter in grey pants and white T-shirts; the women in white dresses, and later in grey dresses; the Germans in brown uniforms and black boots with skeletal faces, raising their arms intermittently in "Sieg Heil" fashion. The score is rendered programmatically: the Girl and Youth in love are separated by war which is indicated on the back scrim by red clouds. The Germans enter, taking the Russian men prisoner. Russian women in grey capes and hoods stand downstage in tableau format as the battle between the prisoners and fascists takes place upstage.
On Sunday night, Irina Golub and Vladimir Shishov did history justice in their roles as the Girl and the Youth, respectively. Golub was her delightful, girlish self, light and charming in the first half, and stricken with grief and shock in the second. Shishov managed to impress with his ballon and aplomb at several points. As the last Russian left standing, he fended off the enemy with a force stemming from someplace in his central torso. That force -- Russian nationalism, civic pride, or the simple ability of good to prevail -- prevented the German army from gaining further ground, but not at the expense of Shishov and other dancers/citizens.
Of note is that no weapons or gestures suggesting them are present in this ballet. As the women enter after the "battle", still clothed in grey, their heads are bowed as they bourree silently across the stage. It is here that Golub's dramatic talents became most visible. One had the impression that she was going through the motions of the dance, numb in the shock of loss created by war. As the curtain falls, she stands with both hands outstretched to the audience, eyes wild, searching for answers in a gesture of pleading and confusion.
One does not have to be a Russian citizen born on Russian soil to appreciate the poignancy of "Leningrad Symphony". Indeed, given the current climate of American interventionalism, one wonders the effect such a ballet would have on American audiences now in the midst of a war which may never have its own Victory Day celebration. One hopes it might prompt more people to consider the costs of war in non-monetary terms. Art speaks volumes to those who listen.
Alexander Polyanichko conducted this evening's program.
Edited by Staff.
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