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Kirov Ballet

'Prodigal Son', 'Reverence', 'Etudes'

by Catherine Pawlick

January 29, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Sunday night’s mixed program offered a range of delights danced by the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet for a sadly half-full house, but the evening gained momentum until the electric excitement of “Etudes” topped it off with displays of St. Petersburg’s historical balletic virtuosity.

The first ballet of the evening was George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son”, to Prokofiev’s score commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev in 1927. The powerful music, played by the Kirov Orchestra, remains as fresh as if it was created only yesterday, acting as a logical backdrop for this ballet’s potent storyline.

Unlike Mikhail Lobukhin’s emotional rendition of the title role in “Prodigal Son” danced just last week, Andrei Batalov’s more temperate approach on Sunday night, while slightly less expressive, was characterized by even delivery and solid technique. His lean, well-defined muscles almost detracted from the immature, wide-eyed nature of the role, but he nonetheless carried out the choreography reliably.

In a rather surprise appearance, Yulia Makhalina appeared in the ballet as the Siren. Having seen her in nothing but “Scheherazade” recently, the ballerina’s sudden shift to pointe shoes and a more serious “ballerina role” raised this writer’s eyebrows. Makhalina appeared very slim – so slim that the lines of her legs were interrupted by bony knees and unarched feet that broke the line. Again in this role other dancers have offered more emotion. Whereas Pavlenko’s Siren is powerful, seductive, cold in her elusiveness and materialism, Makhalina’s Siren went through the steps methodically but not always successfully – she tripped on the velvet cape in the first entrance, and failed to create the leaning en pointe pose (when the bald-headed men form the “train” on the makeshift fence/table downstage right). One’s eyes were repeatedly drawn to her feet, which seemed strained to actually remain, in fact, en pointe. She failed to complete the relevé rondes de jambes en l’air, coming off pointe each time. For a Kirov ballerina, and one as revered as Makhalina has been, disappointing is an understatement.

The one shining moment in this ballet was the brothers – Anton Pimenov and Alexei Nedvega danced with energy and verve from their first entrance. Nedvega’s increasing strength places him at the top of the corps de ballet, warranting more challenging roles. He is a clear actor with clean lines and increasingly potent technique. Pimenov’s constant reliability was ever-present: he never falters in steps, always approaching movement from somewhere deep inside. The two danced their duet and the short fight during the Siren scene admirably. Of similar stature and build, it will be pleasing to watch both of them rise among the ranks of the company in coming years.

”Reverence”, David Dawson’s addition to the Kirov repertoire last March, is an intriguing ballet with Forsythean undertones and somber overtones. Said to be an ode to saying farewell, and an allusion to grief, the ballet offers a curious abstract approach to such themes. Dawson’s dance vocabulary is based in modern movement; his experiences with Ballet Frankfurt come through in his choreography. At moments, one might be watching a sequence from “Steptext” when suddenly the steps will metamorphose into a complex, sweeping lift, or something as simple as a girl running across the stage. He plays with action-reaction in his choreography, and also with the music. At one point, two pair of dancers each dance a phrase separately, but several counts apart. Then they all pose together and again fall out of sequence. The ballet is set "in a black box” – the only wing exits are at the four corners of the stage. The dancers, too, wear black. The women’s long sleeved leotards have a small gothic-looking sleeve at the wrist point; legs are bare.

For this performance, Yana Selina fulfilled the role that Natalia Sologub -- currently out on maternity leave -- performed in last year’s premiere. Partnered by Mikhail Lobukhin, she was the “running girl” this time. Selina’s dancing is marked by a precision and reliability that not all dancers can claim. While still in the corps de ballet, she is usually cast at the front of the lines, and here one sees why. She is strong, accurate and consistent. While she doesn’t have the extremes of flexibility of Sologub, she offers a unique interpretation that one can relax into accepting as only hers; and this is the mark of a true ballerina. In his turn, Lobukhin attacked his movements – recalling again the opening of “Steptext”– with energy, and the partnering sequences with Selina – running with her thrown over his shoulder, for example – with appropriate abandon.

Ekaterina Petina, recognizable always for her unequalled muscular legs and flexible extensions, danced the pas de deux with Andrei Mercuriev. The two are an incredible pair to watch -- she for her lines, and he for his sense of never ending, smooth movement. Mercuriev then danced a brief synchronistic duet with Alexander Sergeev, just out of the Vaganova Academy, but already being cast in solo roles. Judging by this performance, Sergeev is easily able to hold his own despite being the youngest of the six dancers onstage. The two then broke into separate movements highlighted by circular arm gestures. Dawson’s choreography is difficult to follow for its constant variation. For the same reason, it remains intriguing to watch.

Sofia Gumerova was Sergeev’s partner. She moved through her sequences with grace and nobility, maintaining the authenticity of her dancing personality through the choreography. The tallest of the three ladies, her long lines are a pleasure to gaze upon. Her technique long secured, she continues to grow in warmth and emotion.

Harold Lander’s surprisingly simple concept behind “Etudes” never fails as an audience pleaser, and tonight was no exception. Alina Somova was gifted in the ballerina role, supported by Andrei Batalov and Andrei Ivanov. Ilya Kuznetsov danced as her partner during the Sylph sequence.

Much can be said about Somova, unfortunately not all of it flattering. Others have already noted her disagreeable tendency to whack her extensions to all manner of heights. That habit has neither been tamed nor eliminated yet. Are we to be impressed by her youth and her Bambi-like, uber-flexible legs? Or by her inability to listen to the tempo? It is no surprise that the Kirov administration is grooming her to become a ballerina – but she is not there yet. Others of her generation – Bolshakova comes to mind – have an inner soulfulness already visible in their dancing. Countless corps de ballet females are much stronger than she is. It will be interesting to see if such soulfulness and strength can be taught to a young Kirov female. The administration is certainly going to try.

Despite Somova’s cosmetic approach to this role, both Ivanov and Batalov flanked her with interludes that displayed their respective virtuosic talents, and both danced with more sincerity. ”Etudes” is unforgiving in nature – like a ballet class it begins with girls at the bar. Adagio, pirouettes, petit allegro and grand allegro are all shown by various groups of men and women. Here, both Ivanov and Batalov excelled in the allegro sections; Ivanov for his pirouettes and Batalov for his turns a la seconde. Ivanov’s compactness almost detracts from his pristine technique – only halfway through one had the impression that a taller dancer would have brought the house down with the same execution. But Ivanov dances with such ease that even difficult sequences appear undemanding.  It is said that Ivanov is already headed towards a teaching career at the Vaganova Academy. His endless well of energy would certainly not go unused there, but one hopes that he won’t be forced to retire as early as most dancers in the company do. He surely has many good dancing years left.

The women of the corps sparkled like stars in their snow white tutus throughout. Piqué turning around Batalov in a circle in his display of (the aforementioned) turns, they then completing 32 fouettés – in unison – to warm applause.

One trio stood out early on in the ballet, that of Maxim Ziuzin, Alexei Nedvega and a third unidentified male in the sauté section. The men jump in first position, in fourth position, then in fifth position, just as the ‘petit’ in allegro starts to grow.

One favorite section in “Etudes” is the brisé volé sequence performed by the men a bit later on. An essay in aerobic exercise, this diagonal seems much less difficult than it is, in reality. Maxim Chashegorov led the first line with strength and aplomb. The simple steps, danced in perfect uniformity remind one, among the sparkle of the stage lights and the sheen of pointe shoe ribbons, that here lies the heart of the Kirov Ballet.

Mikhail Agrest conducted the marathon evening seamlessly, as usual

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