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Kirov Ballet - 'Apollo', 'La Valse', 'Serenade'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 12, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

With an all-Balanchine evening opened St. Petersburg eyes turned again to the genius of the choreographer’s varied work styles, as the Kirov danced three short ballets to a full house in exemplary fashion.

In “Apollo”, Viktoria Tereshkina, Nadezhda Gonchar and Yana Serebriakova danced the three muses alongside Igor Zelensky’s young sun god. Sleek in their smooth white tunic leotards, the women managed to depict their different gifts with clean technique and accuracy.

As Calliope, Gonchar’s enthusiasm was a delight to watch, her chiseled arches drawing attention throughout the dance. In similar fashion, Yana Serebriakova’s lines were beautiful to regard as she moved through Polygimnia’s variation. The one disappointment was the finger held to her mouth. Due to the position of her hand, it looked as if she was pointing to her nose, and thus continuously distracted from the dance, an unfortunate circumstance given this dancer’s beauty.

As Terpsichore, Tereshkina danced vibrantly, from the beginning of the scooping leg movements in her variation through to the playful pas de deux with Apollo. Of the three, she has the keenest sense of Balanchine technique, unafraid of the hip-directed leg movements, easily meeting the challenges of flexibility demanded in this role. In her brief dance with Apollo, as he lowered her into the splits and picked her up again into relevé arabesque, the overall sense was one of playful fun, a young God enjoying his time with the muse of movement.

Balanchine’s step economy becomes especially apparent in this ballet, for the flexed feet and turned-in lines are unexpected at places, and there is no room for adjustment. This demands precision from the dancers, which is one element that the Mariinsky ladies have mastered. Some of the intricate pas de quatre work could quickly become disastrous if one dancer’s timing was slightly off, but luckily nothing of the sort has happened in this ballet at the Kirov thus far.

The initial birth scene in the full version of “Apollo” was absent here, and thus the closing was also void of the climb onto the upstage pedestal, instead closing with the even more effective “sun arabesque”: golden light bathing Apollo and his three muses from the wings as the ladies’ legs created the “rays” of sun behind him. It seemed fitting, as the curtain closed, that it was Zelensky in this role, flanked by three slim Kirov beauties.

The second ballet of the evening, “La Valse”, is a favorite for its hauntingly beautiful score. Here Uliana Lopatkina danced with Ilya Kuznetsov until she was unexpectedly interrupted by Death, danced by Soslan Kulaiev, calling her in.

Lopatkina’s own beauty and grace were evident from her first entrance. As with every other performance, here too Lopatkina gave the ballet a story. Dressed in a floor length white tulle gown with matching white gloves, her dance with Kuznetsov was one of a young girl, ecstatic at her chance to attend the ball. Her initial mime to him, one hand on her hip, the other above, was a polite suggestion, ‘shall we dance?’ Upon joining the twirling crowds, one could have easily mistaken her for Cinderella living out her dream on the dance floor.

She gave meaning even to the interlude with Death. As Kuliaev directed her movements from upstage, she seemed hypnotized at first, and unaware of what was pulling her backwards. Then, facing him, she watched, wide-eyed, as her own arms moved themselves into the black gloves held out for her, as if the limbs were no longer under her own command, emphasizing the loss of control over her actions and her Fate. These details are the genius of Lopatkina’s art and the unique approach that sets her apart from all others.

Kuznetsov’s pleas for help were (of course and according to the libretto) unheard when the finale’s almost sick parade of indulgence began. As the elegantly dressed, twirling couples ignored him, their indifference to this pair’s unfortunate plight underlined the strength of the majority at the expense of the individual. Why, after all, should a sudden, unexpected and inexplicable death interrupt the gaiety at this richly festive occasion? The idea offers room for contemplation in its possible interpretations.

The final ballet of the evening, “Serenade”, might be deemed a gift to God as well as to humanity, so ethereal is Tchaikovsky’s music here, and so breathtaking the initially simple choreographic structures that build upon themselves in the course of ballet.

Ksenia Ostreikovskaya and Denis Firsov paired together as one soloist couple, and Maya Dumchenko and Sofia Gumerova formed a trio with Ilya Kuznetsov for the black angel sequence as well as those that lead up to it.

Ostreikovskaya and Firsov danced the waltz, skimming the floor in circles to this section of glorious musical composition. Ostreikovskaya seems to be a “Serenade” ballerina in her innate classicism. Just as she is often cast as the solo white swan in “Swan Lake”, so nothing is more appropriate than finding her here in Balanchine’s sweeping waltzes and space consuming steps. Likewise Firsov has an aura of old school classicism about him that makes him a perfect match for her in partnering sequences.

Dumchenko’s accuracy and wide smile were dimmed only slightly by her fragile appearance, which weakened what would be an otherwise strong impression of her dancing.

In the pas de trois with Kuznetsov, Ostreikovskaya was the fallen girl and Gumerova the ‘black angel’ who walked behind him, shielding his eyes from her. During the moment in which the girls both tug on the single male, Gumerova and Ostreikovskaya alternately turned towards Kuznetsov in a gesture of warmth, hugging him.

At the ballet’s end Ostreikovskaya was held aloft and carried, face first, towards the stream of light from the uppermost wing, as if being carried forth to heaven. Despite Balanchine’s denials of symbolism, storyline or meaning, it seems all of these can be found in “Serenade” when one stops to consider the possibilities. It was Balanchine’s first production in the United States, and its enigmatic quality lends it a timelessness that points only to the choreographer’s brilliance.

Mikhail Agrest conducted the evening.

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