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Kirov Ballet - 'The Fountain of Bachchisarai'

by Catherine Pawlick

July 7, 2006 -- Mariinsky State Theatre, St. Petersburg

The eastern tale of unrequited love, female slavery, and Tatar barbarism highlighted in Alexander Pushkin’s poem, the “Fountain of Bachchisarai,” is unique material that finds relevance even in modern times. The ballet by the same name, set to music by Boris Asafiev and with choreography by Rostislav Zakharov, is the first Soviet ballet based on a Pushkin poem, but one of many productions in the USSR of the 1930’s based on great writers of the epoch, such as Balzac and Shakespeare (theatrical productions based on works by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Flaubert were also common in those years).

While presented as a ballet on the Mariinsky stage, the program notes define the “Fountain of Bachchisarai” as a choreographic drama, which, along with works such as Vainonen’s “The Flames of Paris”, or Zakharov’s “Wasted Illusions” defined the boundaries of a new genre at the height of the Soviet empire. Namely, a genre based on a lyrical-heroic theme, with a strong personality conflict in the middle of the libretto and priority given to female dancing. “Fountain of Bachchisarai” retains all of these elements while calling forth simultaneously the theme of the unattainable, and the inevitability of Fate. Placed as it is within the context of Soviet history, it also underlines the strong place of women in Soviet society, given the focus on the harem, the prominence of female dancing interludes (although arguably most ballets fall into this category) and in particular the strong personality of the second heroine, Zarema.

“Fountain” is at core a tragedy, for the barbarian’s attempts to conquer a peaceful people and take what is not rightfully his result in the loss of both the new acquisitions and the old ones. He is left without the one thing he wanted most: the love of the fair captive, Maria. He also can no longer return to his wife, Zarema, who has been killed by his own men and without any protests on his own part, as punishment for murdering Maria.

(For synopsis of the libretto, please refer to a prior review:
http://www.ballet-dance.com/200411/articles/Kirov20041031.html)

In this performance, Maxim Chashegorov achieved new heights in both dramatic delivery and technical aptitude as Vatslav, Maria’s fiance. Unfortunately his dancing (both solo and with Maria) is relegated only to the first act, but nonetheless it was a treat to watch. Chashegorov’s grand allegro has gained in precision, and now also boasts a light, soaring quality. He has the ability to take off with little apparent effort, float in the air and land soundlessly. He has also acquired the endearing Russian habit of bravura expressions which only emphasize his talents.

His Maria, danced by Veronika Ivanova, hailed back to the Kirov of yesteryear. While not versed in the 200 degree extensions that are de rigeur now throughout the company, Ivanova had a pleasantly restrained arabesque that was never higher or lower than 90 degrees. Her strict Vaganova style port de bras was accurate without being overdone or messy, and compensated for a slightly stiff back. It should be noted here that the couple’s choreography is strictly classical and hints at parts of the classical version of “Cinderella”. There are several significant overhead lifts and plenty of sweeping sequences in their garden love pas de deux.

Ivanova presented a refined Maria, polite in demeanour and cool in expression that aptly fit the role of Princess, and any shortcomings were easily overlooked for her refreshingly traditional representation of the character.

As Zarema, the wife of Kahn Girei, Tatiana Tkachenko’s enraged, jealous persona was a frightening departure from her more usual pleasant characters, but represented the facets of strength within her own personality. As Zarema she offered a genuine sense of angst and frustration at the unfortunate turn of events. Her dance of desperation in front of the Kahn was an essay in emotional expression through movement: every arm gesture depicted her resolution for revenge, and strong footwork supported her character’s unchallenged personality.

The ballet’s third act has an expansive sequence in which the Tatar male corps de ballet dances together, where costumes and choreography combine to reveal the raw barbarism of a predatory tribe intent on conquest at any price. The Kirov corps here seemed to enjoy themselves immensely and did a fine job transmitting the idea of the power of the group.

The intriguing score was conducted by Boris Gruzin.

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