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Kirov Ballet

'Swan Lake excerpt', 'The Dying Swan', 'Polovtsian Dances', 'Scheherezade'

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

by Catherine Pawlick

July 19, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

While the best-known stars of the Kirov Ballet grace London with a two week tour that displays a good three quarters of their repertoire, the “reserve troupe” has stayed behind to entertain local devotees and tourists here in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the descriptor “reserve” refers not only to the unrecognizable names on the playbill, but to a mostly inferior level of dancing as well.

The first disappointment came with the unadvertised, unannounced replacement for the evening’s opener. Ratmansky’s entrancing “Middle Duet” – truthfully the sole reason I raced to the theatre early – was replaced at the last minute with the second scene from the first act of “Swan Lake”. Normally one would be excited at the change in billing. What could be more beautiful than watching the Kirov dancing an excerpt from one the most classical of ballets on their home stage? As it turned out, something else could have been.

One can debate where the problem resided: under-rehearsing, the last minute replacement, perhaps an injury or recasting. With a troupe of 220 dancers none of these reasons hold much weight, although the rehearsal issue is the most forgivable and most logical. Unfortunately, judging from the dancing, rehearsal time was not to blame. Andrei Yakovlev partnered an ungraceful, unemotional Tatiana Serova in the White Swan pas de deux.

As Tchaikovsky’s hauntingly beautiful score rose from the orchestra pit, Serova’s overmuscled legs went through the step patterns without accent, her neck disappearing into her shoulders, her head thrown back at inappropriate moments. If she had put thought into her interpretation of the role, or even into displaying the steps with beauty and poise, it was not evident. One could sense no emotion from Serova, and even the releve, ronds de jambs a la seconde displayed a great lack of staying power. Her costume did not help matters – a strange display of white puffs on the bodice implied Frederick’s of Hollywood more than classical ballet.

Yakovlev partnered her adequately, but the pair completely cut out the series of lifts following the arabesque hops en diagonale, replacing them instead by a releve promenade in attitude each time. This alteration of classical choreography in a company that should be upholding the global standard is unacceptable, and if Serova’s size was to blame, there are plenty of smaller females in the company who could have done the role more justice without any alteration in the steps. As Serova turned towards Yakovlev for the final step into retire-passe, sous-sous en pointe, before the petit battements en promenade, she ran into the corps members forming a line behind her and ended up walking in a circle around herself. The entire ballet excerpt was as if the theatre had morphed into another company and time zone: one kept thinking this could not possibly be the Kirov Ballet, the same company that is home to Pavlenko, Lopatkina and Vishneva. The qualitative differences were too dramatic.

The sole point of interest in this ballet was the big swans. Despite a tempo much too fast for their long limbs, their execution was lovely and precise.

As if to torture us a bit more – and in an oddly similar programming choice – Tatiana Amosova’s “The Dying Swan” continued the ornithological theme. It must be said that to the backdrop of Serova’s Odette, Amosova’s delivery was acceptable. She still speeds through the ending, and does not achieve the effect of Lopatkina, but it was a degree of improvement upon her last performance in this short role.  “Polovtsian Dances” followed, in a simple and colorful diversion from the animals-in-flight trend. Here Yulia Slivkina and Mikhail Berdichevski (in his debut) danced the leading Polovtsians with vigor and fresh expression. This short ballet is a pleasure to watch for its energy and ethnic dancing.

The final ballet of the evening was no doubt the magnet for many of the spectators: “Scheherezade” featuring Farukh Ruzimatov and Yulia Makhalina as the Slave and Zobeida. Ruzimatov was, as always, in his element in this role, drawing the viewer into the ballet’s plot and maintains that connection until the tragic ending. He exuded all the magnetism of a prowling feline on the hunt, his smoldering passion for Makhalina barely contained within his every movement and gesture. Stealthy leaps and catlike grace gave his character an earthy nature, in pleasant contrast to Makhalina’s slightly evasive but still passionate characterization. He drank thirstily and in haste from the cup she handed him halfway through their pas de deux, and she was the grateful recipient of his attentive pursuit.

Makhalina, for her part, danced an authentic Zobeida. As she contemplated suicide, Soslan Kulaev as Shahriar glanced at her. No sooner was he looking her way than she snapped her head back, returning a blank stare that revealed none of the thoughts in her head. It was a small moment of acting genius on Makhalina’s part that added a layer of depth to the role. The two stars deserved every bit of warm applause and every long-stemmed rose bestowed upon them at evening’s end.

Mikhail Agrest conducted.

Edited by Staff.

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