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Kirov Ballet - New Names Program

'Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme', 'On the Side of Swann', 'The Overcoat'

by Catherine Pawlick

February 25, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

In what could be considered a test run before greeting Moscow audiences this weekend, the “New Names” program of short works by budding young choreographers was performed for the third time ever this week in St. Petersburg. The program, which premiered on the Mariinsky stage just a year ago, offers a look at the bright works of Nikita Dmitrievsky, Alexei Miroshnichenko, and Noah Gelber. Gelber's work has been nominated for a Golden Mask award in three categories -- best choreographer, best ballet production and best actor in a leading role. While we won’t know the judges’ decision until April 14, Sunday night’s performance was full of promise, with talent appearing in numerous places.

The first piece, “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”, set to the music of Strauss, is Dmitrievsky’s summary in dancing terms of Molière’s farcical play.. The result has some comedic moments, but is unfortunately weighted by a complex storyline and incomplete character development. Although under an hour in length, based simply on costumes and steps it is difficult to follow the libretto and understand the social interaction between the dancers. Were one to view this ballet without recognizing any of the names on the playbill, it would be virtually impossible to follow, for so much depends on the ability to determine who is who onstage. To his credit, Dmitrievsky has incorporated a few stellar sections including a gymnastic interplay between the four waiters with one-handed cartwheels and various flips and tosses as well as a “pas de trois” of three men in which Mikhail Lobukhin mimics a swan while wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The rest of the dancing is interesting for its musicality, and Dmitrievsky has made clever use of lighting and timing. The subject of “Gentilhomme” is simply too complex to be compressed into a one-act ballet. With more time, or a simplified libretto, it could be fleshed out more completely.

The second piece, Alexei Miroshnichenko’s “On the Side of a Swan”, is a brief but genius concoction set to a score created by Leonid Desyatnikov. Employing a play on  words that uses the title of Marcel Proust’s novel “Swann’s Way”, and the musical theme of Saint-Saen’s “The Dying Swan”, this ballet shows two “birds” pecking, primping, jumping and interacting with grotesque gestures that quickly shift into classical lines and back again. Olesya Novikova and Alexander Sergeev, dressed in black leotards and black tights, stand in front of a large black and white bar code on a screen upstage. Accompanied by live pianists Polina Osetinskaya and Alexei Goribol, both Sergeev and Novikova seemed completely engaged in their roles, infusing the choreography with impulse, energy and meaning. Novikova, in a chin-length black wig, presented an image of avant-garde chic as she shifted between lyrical, soft swan arms and turned-in feet, her chin jutting forward purposely. Sergeev, his hair slicked to a “V” on his forehead, at one point lifted her and carried her across the stage as if she were a life-sized doll. The possible interpretations of this ballet are numerous. One of its pleasures is that, like Proust, it keeps the audience thinking.

The program’s final piece, “The Overcoat”, was without a doubt the crème de la crème of the evening. Having already received strong accolades from numerous local Russian papers at its premiere, “The Overcoat” is an example of what results when talent is combined with intense study and proper interpretation of a classical Russian novel. Noah Gelber based his choreography on the personality traits of each character in the ballet – the Tailor moves in zig-zag fashion, threading an invisible needle through his own clothing and back again; the Girl’s steps include more sensual, circular movements; and Akaki’s steps are often criss-crossed, riddled with ticks and gestures signifying his uncertainty or hesitation. As at the initial premiere, Andrei Ivanov proved an expert in expressing the emotional range of the ballet’s protagonist, from the nervous ticks in his initial entrance, to joy at the sight of his new overcoat, to white-faced disbelief at the sight of the gigantic overcoat in his feverish, symbolic death scene, and finally to confident revenge in the epilogue. Ivanov has been nominated for a Golden Mask award in the category of best actor for his performance in this role as Akaki.

As the bearers of the war letter and the invitation to the ball, respectively, Grigori Popov and Anton Pimonov displayed dazzling execution of complex step patterns, quick turns and jumps. Islam Baimuradov was brilliant as the drunken tailor, his stumbling patterns leading the viewer to share in Akaki’s doubtfulness at the prospect of entrusting his favorite coat to the intoxicated man.

It isn’t often that the Mariinsky commissions ballets, and even less frequent that they engage young choreographers to create contemporary works. This performance proved that it behooves them to do more of the same. The “New Names” program is traveling to Moscow on March 4 and 5 for part of the Golden Mask Festival. One hopes that the dancers and choreographers who have been nominated for individual Golden Mask awards will be recognized when the results are announced on April 14.

Pavel Smelkov conducted all three ballets.

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