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Kirov Ballet

'The Overcoat’, ‘Young Girl and the Hooligan’, ‘Leningrad Symphony’

by Catherine Pawlick

May 13, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

In an afternoon dedicated to what would be the 100th birthday of Dmitrii Shostakovich and as part of a year-long focus on his musical compositions, the Kirov Ballet offered three short ballets set to the great composer’s scores.

The second premiere of Noah Gelber’s “The Overcoat” (it debuted in March at the International Mariinsky Festival) set a somber tone for the afternoon, as the characters from Gogol’s dark novel danced their way through Akaki Akakievich’s tragic story. As Akaki, Anton Pimenov proved his deep dramatic talents and flexible movement style.

Grigorii Popov, who dazzled as the Jester in the previous night’s “Swan Lake”, found another vehicle for his expert pyrotechnics in the variation as the deliverer of the war letter.  Alexei Nedvega, a corps member who always manages to stand out from the crowd, here danced superbly as the purveyor of the invitation to the ball.  As the Girl, Svetlana Ivanova was a shining ray of pure innocence and sheer beauty, her every gesture towards the hero made with gentleness and hesitancy, her long, slim legs beautiful to behold.

Despite conductor Pavel Bubelnikov’s apparently independent decision to considerably lower the tempo throughout the ballet, Pimenov and the other dancers managed well. Unfortunately the altered tempo made the libretto’s progression and some scene changes seem longer than they should have been.

“The Young Girl and the Hooligan” is a purely Russian ballet that is, to the best of this reviewer’s knowledge, rarely if ever performed outside Russia. The basic story of a Young Girl pursued by a cool, tough street Hooligan in the early 1920’s is depicted through Konstantine Boyarsky’s choreography and Alexander Belinski’s film-based libretto.  The dancers are clothed in accordance with the time period, and dance to simple scenery (images), such as a park bench or café tables, projected onto the upstage scrim.

Daria Sukhoroukova debuted in this performance as the Young Girl. Dressed in a pale blue knee-length sailor-type dress and pointe shoes, she entered the stage uncertainly, clearly depicting the young, innocent, inexperienced lady. The Hooligan, Ilya Kuznetsov, danced in casual pants, T-shirt and messenger cap, and was determined to win her heart, but apparently his rough and tumble ways frighten more than attract her. A brief scene in a nightclub featured Tatiana Tkachenko as the girlfriend of the untouchable Leader, dressed in black with a white silk scarf, danced proudly by Sergei Popov. Kuznetsov showed all the frustration of a tough guy incapable of expressing his feelings in an appropriate manner. His attempts to attract the Girl’s attention are unwelcome. Finally, however, during a brief pas de deux in the park which displayed Sukhoroukova’s lovely legs and exquisite port de bras, and Kuznetsov’s strength and acting ability, the couple communicates on the same level, both expressing joy at their mutual understanding. The Hooligan steals a kiss, is slapped, and then hits the Girl, resulting in her ultimate departure.

The rest of the plot offered more dramatic opportunity for the dancers than hardcore dancing time. After some rough behavior with the Leader’s girlfriend in a night club, the Hooligan’s fate is sealed. The Leader appears in the park along with a group of men in jumpsuits who look as if they’ve come from a car shop or factory. They attack, and the Leader stabs the Hooligan. The Girl enters after the Hooligan has been stabbed, and there is a brief pas de deux in which she willingly kisses the Hooligan, a small gift of joy just before his death.

“Young Girl and the Hooligan” is to the Mariinsky what a ballet such as “Filling Station” is to San Francisco Ballet – a historical part of the company’s past, a short, colorful ballet, presented almost in Broadway-like manner, and engrossing both visually and thematically. It a pity “Hooligan” isn’t performed more frequently on this stage, as it offers serious dramatic opportunity for all involved, and is a bright alternative for those seeking something other than traditional classical ballet.

The final ballet of the afternoon, “Leningrad Symphony”, was performed as it usually is, just after May 9, in honor of Victory Day. Thus, this year once more ode was paid to the millions of Russians who died during World War II, and the great toll it took on the country’s continually declining population. The leading roles were danced movingly by Daria Pavlenko and Dmitrii Semionov.

The mixture of costumes, music and choreography in “Leningrad Symphony” makes a bone-chilling impression of the horrors of war, which are depicted mostly symbolically in Igor Belsky’s effective 1961 creation. Girls in simple white dresses meet their boyfriends and dance together before the men are called to war. The image of gunfire is projected on the back scrim as a battle scene between Germans (clothed in brown fatigues and army boots) and Russians (the same boys, only shirtless) ensues. The image of prisoners of war is made as the Russian boys slowly climb an upstage ramp, their heads hung low in despair, arms crossed and intertwined as if in chains. They stand briefly before falling backwards, presumably to their deaths, and out of view.

Semionov, already noted for his strong jumps, classical line and high potential, here led the group of young Russian men going to battle. His long legs and powerful allegro was a perfect match for the role of the leader of undefiable Russian youth. As the last Russian standing, he fended off the last German in a final battle of strength. Belsky’s ingenious choreography avoids obvious props such as guns, instead using arm gestures or even the idea of strength invisibly emanating from one’s chest as a tangible force. In Semionov’s case, he needed just stand, chest held high, next to the German who, in return, folded backwards in weakness.

As the Girl, Pavlenko’s performance more than impressed, her lines as lovely as her acting was poignant. With tousled hair and pleading gestures, she depicted the agony of loss, the incomprehension of destruction, and the grief of losing loved ones. Following the end of the war as she repeated the balance pique step done earlier when all of the couples were together. Almost subconsciously consoling herself with the rocking motion, one had the impression that she had lost not only her family and loved ones, but part of herself in the course of the war. This was no doubt part of Belsky’s intention in creating this ballet. Pavlenko’s blank stare implied shock, emptiness and despair. As she reached her open hands towards the audience as the curtain closed, one was overcome by the all-encompassing feeling that what was lost in the war cannot ever be regained.

This program was repeated on July 3.

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