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Kirov Ballet - 'Chopiniana', 'Scheherezade', 'The Firebird'

by Catherine Pawlick

February 26, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

From the classical “Chopiniana” through the smoldering energy of “Scheherezade” and culminating in the idyllic fairytale “Firebird,” Fokine’s Mixed Program at the Kirov is an array of dancing delights. Sunday night’s performance offered treats of virtuosity from well-known stars and from the corps de ballet, acting as a strong reminder, following some recently questionable performances, of the company’s ability to excel in pure classicism, Fokine-style.

In “Chopiniana,” Yana Selina danced the 11th waltz with Anton Korsakov. Selina expressed ebullience through a constant smile and playful eyes. If one were to take a snapshot sample of her technique at its best, the flutter of her feet in tiny steps before she bursts into a grand jeté would be the chosen segment. Likewise, for this ballet she mastered the old-fashioned port de bras, bringing us back 150 years to the authentic time period in which the ballet was first danced. Korsakov, unfortunately, could not match her in recreating the past. He looked misplaced in the piece, using force where softness is more appropriate. While his technical prowess is appreciated, his visible preparations informed us of the large jetés to come,  jetés thrown carelessly into the air, immediately detracting from the manner and mood of the ballet.

However, where Korsakov subtracted, Ksenia Ostreikovskaya added back to the drops of “traditional” that had been wrung from the ballet. In the Mazurka, she offered light, romantic port de bras and airy jumps. Of the three, she best epitomized the image of a romantic-era ballerina, a sylph floating through space and, in our case, time.

Daria Vasnetsova was blessed with the opportunity to debut in the Prelude. She met the challenge with grace and poise, accurately emulating the romantic image to the best of her ability. Vasnetsova has strongly arched feet, more stable than those of her contemporary, Bolshakova, which were beautiful to behold beneath the layers of white tulle on her skirt. Though her épaulement had been much rehearsed, and was amply demonstrated, with time and repeated performances it will become even more second nature to her. Though not as impressive in other performances, and based solely on this one, Vasnetsova can be a refreshing young dancer who appears, in any case, to have possibility at her door.

Hardly a more exciting onstage pair can be found than Uliana Lopatkina and Farukh Ruzimatov as Zobeida and the Slave, in “Scheherezade.” Despite the absence of pointe shoes and tutus, Lopatkina was a passionate, harem-confined, brightly bejeweled princess, intent at a secret meeting with her lover despite the costs. Ruzimatov never does less than sizzle as the Slave, and while the choreography isn’t overly demanding, the acting here is. This time, covered in gold body glitter, he slithered around Lopatkina like a hungry animal waiting for his prey, but equally like a tiger (often on the floor, at her feet) obeying his trainer. When Lopatkina handed him the goblet from which to drink, he reacted as he has done in performances with Makhalina – drinking hastily from the cup and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, his eyes on her the entire time. Then Lopatkina also drank from the chalice, handing it, empty, to the Undying Kashei (one of the harem’s aides), with a look of victory and satisfaction. Lopatkina’s Zobeida is not smoldering – her love is cleaner, but no less strong, and her attraction to the Slave undeniable. In the final scene, when the Shakhrir, played by Vladimir Ponomarev, happens upon the lovers, Lopatkina’s interaction with him was more crystal clear than in other interpretations:  she reaches for him twice, and each time he recoils from her touch. She then folds to his feet when he lifts her up and embraces her in forgiveness. The applause and curtain calls (a good ten minutes into the usual intermission time) following the ballet testified to the dancers’ unsurpassed performance.

Two small girls seated next to me with their mother were a quick reminder that “Firebird” is appropriate for spectators of all ages. Uncannily Disney for a 1910 Russian production (fog, smoke, lightning, green wigs, mossy creatures and scary skeletons all abound here), “Firebird” can be, as one of the girls stated aloud, “scary.” But it can also be beautiful. Dmitrii Semionov, an underused dancer of the princely variety, danced Tsarevich Ivan next to Irma Nioradze’s flittering, fluttering Firebird. Nioradze appeared stronger than in the several performances in which I saw her last year, with an expressive face and sprightly jumps. Semionov is tall, lithe, and demure, a polite Tsarevich with respect for both the bird and for his Beloved Beauty Tsarevna, danced by Ksenia Dubrovina.

Unfortunately, the style of this ballet deems it historically necessary to clod all feet – save for the Firebird’s – in soft ballet slippers. The Firebird is the only character in pointe shoes during the entire ballet, and with legs and feet as beautiful and uniform as the Kirov’s, it seems as if talent and line here are not used to their maximum potential. Perhaps just hours after being initiated into Chopiniana’s classicism, it takes longer than usual to recover,, but this passing thought quickly points again to the services the Kirov does to the ballet world. By preserving the past, they enrich their present and underline their unique place in dance history as the only company that can truly claim to be the home to Fokine productions.

Valeri Obsyanikov conducted.

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