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Kirov Ballet - London 2005
July 28, 29 and 30, 2005 -- Royal Opera House, London
On this trip to London the Kirov decided to bring with it the old Soviet version of “La Bayadere”, more or less intact from how I last remembered it, though with ‘Manu’ and her pot going missing. I’ve always considered it an oddly constructed ballet with its mainly mimed first act that becomes more and more tedious the more I view it, but at least there’s no mind-numbing last act and ineffective “destruction of the temple” scene to endure at the end, so in that respect this version is more viable than others.
In the end, it all comes down to the dancing, and in the four performances I saw there were four pairs of lovers to enjoy and compare. On the first night, Daria Pavlenko made a soulful, sorrowful Nikiya partnered by Kirov golden boy Leonid Sarafanov as the unfaithful Solor.
Sarafanov has been criticized a fair bit -- on Critical Dance and elsewhere -- as getting too much too soon, a sentiment that I have had some sympathy with in the past. When I last saw him in the Sergei Vikharev-reconstructed “Bayadere” two years ago, he looked far too young for the role, and, swamped by his costume, he put me in mind of a boy dressing up in his father’s clothes. Not this time though. Still looking youthful in the extreme, he has developed a stage persona that is actually rather glamorous. His costume this time around was sexy with very low-slung, filmy trousers and a tiny crop top that put me very much in mind of what Vakhtang Chaboukiani wore in one of my videos of historic performances. It suddenly dawned on me that if young Sarafanov were lead singer in a boy band the girls would be screaming for him from here to Tokyo.
Looking good is one thing, but in this role only the dancing matters, and Sarafanov didn’t disappoint. He was almost textbook perfect with the softest of landings from his jumps and if his partnering has looked shaky in the past, he made no errors on this occasion. His Gamzatti was Ekaterina Osmolkina, another young dancer who looked a very nice princess -- not up to plotting nasty things with snakes at all, but dancing very strongly throughout.
The three shade soloists were completely unmemorable, with only Tatiana Tkachenko in the second solo looking almost adequate. What is it with Kirov cabrioles? Once they were crisply executed with a clean beat. Now it seems they must always finish with a leg thrown up to the ceiling. Petipa must be turning in his grave.
Although, as I mentioned earlier, I missed Manu and her balancing act, I still enjoyed a rip-roaring Indian Dance with the peerless Galina Rakhmanova paired with Islom Baimuradov, accompanied by Vassily Scherbakov banging the drum. They made a cracking team with a level of energy that went off the Richter scale.
The next day, a work commitment I couldn’t get out of meant missing the Friday matinee, but several of my acquaintances praised the Solor of Anton Korsakov very highly. I was sorry to have missed him as his performance in “Nutcracker” in Germany last December was one of the highlights of my ballet-going last year.
The evening performance gave us Diana Vishneva, now an international star. Of course the bigger the name the bigger the expectations, but Vishneva fulfilled all the highest presuppositions anyone might have had with a performance that was close to flawless. Her partner again was Andrian Fadeyev, who danced brilliantly but without much involvement, in a costume a tad more substantial than Sarafanov’s the night before. Tkachenko as Gamzatti had the makings of a real bitch and made a glitzy would-be bride, dancing with an all out gusto and facing the most difficult passages of the choreography fearlessly. I was very impressed by her. Dancing opposite a ballerina of Vishneva’s caliber, she still managed to hold her own.
It was the Saturday matinee that I probably enjoyed the most during this run of Bayaderes, with Viktoria Tereshkina and Daniil Korsuntsev taking the leading roles. Nikiya suits Tereshkina extremely well with her unfussy technique and beautiful, clean line. She also possess more awareness of musicality than most of her colleagues. Added to this, she appeared to have a better rapport with her partner than the other pairings did, which gave the performance an extra dimension that the others lacked. Korsuntsev, not a dancer I usually credit with much acting ability, seemed more involved in the story than the other Solors, looking convincingly guilty while struggling with his mixed emotions towards the prospect of marrying a rajah’s daughter whilst still in love with Nikiya. He danced rather well too.
The final performance was with Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky, with Lopatkina dancing as beautifully as ever but remaining emotionally uninvolved. Zelensky, of course, suffered a severe back injury awhile back, and he has contrived to exclude virtually all the ballet’s lifts. I’ve always liked Zelensky in the role of Solor as he gives the appearance of someone who actually could be an Indian Warrior (by the way, the programme now describes Solor as being “a rich warrior”, the first time in my recollection that his financial status has ever been mentioned). If Zelensky was wary about lifting, he certainly wasn’t in any way cautious when it came to his final solo which he took at such a speed that the years just fell away as he accelerated to a pace that left the audience screaming their appreciation.
Sadly, though, I have to finish on a sour note. The Kingdom of the Shades was a massive let down, and the formerly impeccable Kirov corps was to blame. Shade after Shade descended the ramp with a penchee arabesque forced grotesquely high. Where was the perfect uniformity of the past? Who sanctioned this travesty? That Kirov instructors who should know better are urging soloists to become contortionists is bad enough, but to ruin the corps in the same way left me seething.
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