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Kirov Ballet

All Fokine: 'Chopiniana', 'Spectre de la Rose', 'The Dying Swan', 'Polovtsian Dances'

by Catherine Pawlick

November 24, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

If a theme were to be designated for Friday night’s performance at the Mariinsky Theatre, judging from both casting and programming choices, “Old World Charm” would have been the reigning definition. The all-Fokine evening harked back to the traditions of the Mariinsky’s earliest years, bringing with it a warm allure and a glimpse into the mores of old school classicism.

“Chopiniana”, despite its deep historical significance, remains a timeless piece that appears fresh each time it is danced by the Kirov. As such, it is one of the gems that the Kirov holds in its treasure chest of original classical works – it need not be dusted off, because the company manages to preserve it in glistening, pristine form each time it is presented. This performance featured both Zhanna Ayupova and Elvira Tarasova alongside Ruben Bobovnikov and Yulia Kasenkova in the leading roles. Ayupova danced the Prelude with utter precision and supreme grace. Her port de bras and epaulement brought a delicate touch of refinement to this ultimate legato variation, where each soutenue into fifth position en pointe was maintained with nary a wobble or bourree. Her Prelude was not marred by any excesses; an essay in efficiency, she danced the role as one imagines was originally (in 1906) intended. Tarasova danced the Mazurka with fluidity and lightness, captivating with her ballon and expressive eyes. Another proponent of unornamented Kirov style, she fulfilled the role with tasteful decorum. Bobovnikov, often cast as the Bronze Idol in “La Bayadere” and most recently as the Officer in Pandoursky’s successful premiere of “The Meek One”, is thus not the typical choice for a danseur noble role such as this. However, he nonetheless impressed with strong batterie and smooth landings. Aside from a very brief entanglement of arms with Ayupova, his partnering was also flawless, especially during the series of smooth lifts in the 7th Waltz and the often awkward diagonale of cabrioles. Only Yulia Kasenkova, despite energetic jumps, disappointed with stiff, unfeminine hands which detracted from the feeling of the 11th Waltz.

Sophia Gumerova performed Mikhail Fokine’s short variation, “The Dying Swan”, in a manner which showed off her elegant limbs and beautiful legs. If one did not sense the pain in the swan’s struggle between Death creeping nearer, and Life, or the frantic feeling that strikes at the end, at least Gumerova’s limbs were a pleasant distraction.

The audience received a rare treat in the form of “Spectre de la Rose”, a ballet rarely performed even here, and almost never seen in major Western ballet companies. The line from Theophile Gautier’s famous poem, “I am the scent of the rose that you wore last night at the ball” became the inspiration for this ballet which Fokine created in 1911, as is well known, for both Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. In the program notes, a quote from Mikhail Fokine himself clarifies the basis of the libretto:

“This ballet is not a technical display... The dance is always expressive. It is a new and beautiful theme of dance for the Girl. With closed eyes she searches for him, her Spectre. The Spectre is not a typical dancer in any way, simply fulfilling his variation for the public’s pleasure. No, he is a spirit, a dream. He is the scent of a rose, not a cavalier or a ballerina’s partner. The technique of the arms in this ballet completely differs from the strong, correct arm positions of old ballet. The arms (here) live, speak, sing, but they do not ‘fulfill positions’.”.

The young Maxim Eremeev, in just his second year with the company, debuted in the famous Nijinsky role, bringing ballon and a wonderful sense of those “living” arm movements to his interpretation. His arms curled and interwove themselves above his head, as if he was creating magic onstage. Graced with the deepest of plies and pliable, visibly-pleasing arched feet, he seems an obvious choice to portray this uncapturable creature of the air. Eremeev has incredible potential ahead of him career-wise. Surrounded by professionals such as Tarasova and the staff at the Mariinsky, the sky will certainly be his limit.

As the Girl, Elvira Tarasova appeared the spitting image of Karsavina in the famous white dress. Drunk with the sweet scent of her red-petalled flower, she perfectly expressed the essence of a girl caught up in fantasy. Guided by the Spectre she cannot see, it was as if Tarasova’s body was being pulled back to sleep while her spirit counteracted the impulse, sensing the Spectre in the room, and commanding her to dance. Then, once awake, she was suddenly infused with excitement and energy to see the incarnation of her dream near her.

“Polovtsian Dances” ended the evening in a fantastic frenzy of energized character dance among the corps de ballet. Mikhail Agrest conducted.

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