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Kirov Ballet - Balanchine Program

'Four Temperaments', 'La Valse', 'Theme and Variations'

by Catherine Pawlick

February 23, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

On the heels of the Raymonda triptych reviewed in our March magazine, the Mariinsky Ballet brought a second ballet back to the stage after a long absence. This time the “Theme” was Balanchine’s – “Theme and Variations”, that is – on a program following “Four Temperaments” and “La Valse”. While the first two ballets were rather standard Mariinsky renditions of these neoclassical works, “Theme” left much to be desired in terms of organization and cleanliness.

The evening began with “Four Temperaments”. A stark, abstract ballet, this explores the four basic temperaments inherent in man. These four moods – melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric – are sometimes connected with their elementary counterparts (earth, water, fire and air).

The curtain opened to Alina Somova and Sergei Popov clothed in Balanchine’s signature sparse black and white leotard uniforms. Unfortunately, Somova’s gynecological extensions in her initial movements with Sergei Popov distracted rather than impressed. Thankfully, the entrance of Ekaterina Kondaurova with Maxim Chashegorov in the “Theme” brought with it a more settling, refined sense of placement and timing. Ever the ideal partner, Chashegorov was brilliant alongside Kondaurova, whose lines are beautiful to behold but never overdone. Olesya Novikova and Alexei Nedvega danced brightly in their duet, seeming to enjoy the dance.

The first variation, Melancholic, began in slow sadness as danced by Anton Korsakov. Korsakov infused a great deal of attention to both the steps and the character of the role, not overlooking its emotive side. Ekaterina Osmolkina and Alexander Sergeev danced Sanguinic with expansive, bright gestures. Both emitted an air of freedom within the dance as they explored Balanchine’s playground of choreography.

Anton Pimenov was a fitting casting choice for Phlegmatic, a variation begun in solitude by a lone man. His one-legged balance in the attitude devant pose never wavered, and his intense focus on the movement matched the music’s mood. Pimenov’s talents are rarely spotlighted within the Mariinsky. This was one of those infrequent moments that will hopefully lead to more solo work in the coming years.

Ekaterina Petina’s fiery entrance led off the final variation, Choleric, with sharp gesture and high energy. The company ended the ballet in streamlined synchronicity as the curtain fell to the last notes of Paul Hindemit’s score.

The second ballet of the evening was Balanchine’s “La Valse”. Set to Ravel’s haunting music, it was danced brilliantly by Daria Pavlenko alongside Popov.  It can finally be said that Pavlenko has claimed this role as her own. No other Mariinsky ballerina infuses it with just the right balance of mystery, beauty, tragedy and humanity. While Uliana Lopatkina’s interpretation is more distanced, Pavlenko’s added warmth here serves to bring the role into closer relief for the audience.

She embodies the enigma of both the ballerina and the ballet as a whole, offering clues to the riddle, but never giving it away. More than one spectator shifted to the edge of his seat as the finale neared, curious, no doubt, at the ballet’s message. This genius creation and Pavlenko’s genius interpretation, when combined, are simply spellbinding.

The final ballet of the evening, of course, was the long awaited return to the stage of Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations”. Echoing the promenade from “Diamonds” here, and the corps patterns of “Ballet Imperial” there, “Theme and Variations” is an abstract presentation of the music decorated with tiaras and tutus. Its choreography, while highly musical – as all of Balanchine is – presents complex patterns and challenging step combinations.

In a personal interpretation that, while precise and technically clean, appeared nonetheless softer and less Balanchinean, Lopatkina danced the lead with Mikhail Lobukhin as her partner.

The pair is an odd one at best: while Lobukhin can fulfill the solo work for this role, he is too short for a ballerina of Lopatkina’s height en pointe. Likewise, she seemed to tower over him in the partnering sections, weakening the sense of powerful dancing that that the role should emit. Both dancers of course have their strengths, but when paired together, those strengths are weakened.

The sense of authority that the lead couple must hold in order to carry the ballet forward was unfortunately met on an even lower level by the ensemble work. Balanchine’s lines and choreographic patterns here were diluted, not by the technical level of the dancers – the Mariinsky are, after all, among the best – but due to the sheer lack of rehearsal time for the ballet. “Theme” rehearsals seem to have begun no more than several weeks before the performance, if that. And for a ballet this challenging – the non-intuitive step patterns, the demand for split-second timing throughout, even in the corps de ballet –  time is required to polish and refine.

In tonight’s performance, the timing was also off. Synchronicity among demi soloist groups was transformed into canons or worse, resulting in a hazy effect. However, it must be stated that the dancers are not to blame. They do the best with the rehearsal time they are given, and their schedules are grueling as it is. Although current and past practice show no indication of change, one nevertheless hopes that ample preparation time will be given to any new ballets that the company intends to premiere in upcoming festivals.

Mikhail Agrest conducted.

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