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Kirov Ballet - London 2005

Balanchine Programme: 'La Valse', 'Ballet Imperial', 'Prodigal Son'

by Lyndsey Winship

July 29, 2005 -- Royal Opera House, London

Now that they’ve mastered the futuristic Forsythe -- well, almost -- a triple bill of Balanchine is old hat to the Kirov. Two of the pieces in this programme, “La Valse” and “Ballet Imperial” were brought into the repertoire only last year, but the Kirov have taken easy ownership, happy to bring St Petersburg’s lost son back into the fold.

The triple bill, with “Prodigal Son” sandwiched in between, is a slightly strange collection of works, but an interesting evening nonetheless.

La Valse,” for example, is a bit of an oddity. With Ravel and Balanchine in neo-romantic mode, it’s a slight tale of decadence turned to decay. The stage is set for a society ball and the diamante-studded dancers whirl as gloriously as their full skirts, matching Ravel’s diaphanous music. It’s pretty, clever, superficial, sparkling, and Uliana Lopatkina is the vision of loveliness at the centre of it all. But when the score reaches its ominous finale, our heroine’s purity is tainted by a looming figure in black, and before we know it she has been swallowed by death.

Balanchine was never a great lover of storytelling and there’s very little exposition here. Who, what, why? Who knows? Lopatkina certainly doesn’t seem to. Lured by her dark prince there’s no fear in her eyes, no surprise, no motive, no struggle, no nothing. Just a blithe acceptance of her fate. Looking lovely to the end.

By contrast, everybody knows the parable of “Prodigal Son,” a very different ballet to “La Valse.” Balanchine paints in broad expressionist strokes, with clean choreography matching the simplicity of the story – the young man who seeks independence but finds that adventure, indulgence and desire have a dark side. (In that way, perhaps not so different from the last piece.) Andrei Merkuriev in the title role is a strong lead, suitably youthful, self-confident and straightforward in his character and his movement.

His singular world view is blurred, however, when he arrives at a scene of revelry and meets the Siren, Daria Pavlenko. The intertwining steps for the pair are more than racy, but Pavlenko looks uncomfortable playing the temptress. Blank-faced, stilted; she’s too sweet to corrupt, which leaves the central scene lacking in force, but there’s no doubting Merkuriev’s shame and pain as the broken man returns home.

The final piece, “Ballet Imperial,” is known in the U.S. as Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2, after its music. The name hardly matters, but the original title is spot on in describing the regal inheritance that is the Kirov style. This is a classical throwback that gives Diana Vishneva the chance to play a pure ballerina in majestic style. She is radiant, her dancing spacious yet precise, her arms weighty with expression, her presence announced by every movement. She melts into the romance of a piano solo for a pas de deux with Igor Zelensky. He is a sturdy partner, if lacking fire, and similarly, the corps is full of grace but hardly effervescent. In the end though, it doesn’t matter -- Vishneva's presence is enough.

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