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St. Petersburg Ballet (The Russian Ballet Theatre)

'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

July 29, 2007 -- Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, St. Petersburg, Russia

Aside from the famous Maryinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg is also home to a plethora of small Russian ballet companies, some of which tour the west and many of which have vague names aimed at attracting (or in some cases deceiving) tourists.

The Hermitage Theatre and the Maly-Mussorgsky both support small ballet companies, the former directed mostly at tourists and the latter with more reasonable prices but generally regarded a “second-hand” local troupe. There is also Jacobson’s Choreographic Miniatures, now under the direction of Yuri Petukhov, Konstantine Tkatckine’s company, the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, which features Irina Kolesnikova, and Victor Korolkov’s “Classical Ballet” company.

The “Russian Ballet Theatre” is yet another local company that claims as its home base the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory just across from the Maryinsky Theatre. Founded in 1990 by Boris Bruskin, a former Kirov dancer, and now run by Bruskin’s wife Galina Petrovskaya and son Alexander, both ex-Kirov dancers as well, this small troupe, with its hodge-podge dancers from as far away as Voronezh, tours regularly to Holland and Japan, as well as other countries in Europe. Due to the popularity of the classical ballet repertoire among tourists, this company’s repertoire has been solidified in recent years to focus on the bare essentials: “Swan Lake”, “Nutcracker”, and “Giselle”. The troupe performs these classics with frequent guest artists from the Maryinsky Ballet, artists who raise the level of the performance considerably.

On a warm and drizzly July evening, the tourists and locals who filed into the Soviet-style hall of the Conservatory were in for a treat. Fethon Miozzi, an Italian-Greek dancer who hails from the Kirov Ballet danced the role of Prince Siegfried to Natalia Bashkirtseva’s Odette/Odile.

Bashkirtseva, an Honored Artist of Russia and prizewinner of the Moscow International Ballet Competition, began her career in Leonid Jacobson’s company. While short of stature, her lovely, long feet are blessed with strong, high insteps that create beautiful lines en pointe. She danced a clean, lovely Odette, but one that was nearly indistinguishable emotionally from her Odile. Physically, a rather stiff upper back in both roles was the only element that detracted from the impression of a swan’s light, pliable wings; one wished her arms had had a greater range of motion. Nonetheless, Bashkirtseva’s talent comes in her smudge-free technique: accurate, well-timed and never hesitant. From the standpoint of pure Russian classicism, she is a pleasure to behold but slightly more expression – especially against the backdrop of her partner’s dramatic projection – would instantly ensure an even greater following.

In contrast to Bashkirtseva’s highly technical but emotionally absent portrayal of the ballet’s heroine, Miozzi brought sparkle and finesse to a very palpable, live Prince Siegfried. That Miozzi was trained in the Vaganova is clear the moment he steps onstage: crisp, clean lines, perfect turnout, beautiful insteps and an upright carriage that stands out from the rest. His commanding presence set him apart from anyone else on stage, and his largest gift is exactly what is missing from nearly all of the current male dancers on the Kirov roster: emotion. It seems surprising to encounter this dramatic artist performing leading roles just across the street from his home theatre, and doing so at a level that his colleagues would have reason to envy.

A mature but still young dancer, Miozzi officially left the Kirov of his own resolve when Vinogradov was removed from the helm. Since then Miozzi has guested with his wife Irina, performing in the Alexandrinsky and Maly-Mussorgsky theatres in addition to the Conservatory stage. He sports an endless ballon and an even more infinite source of dramatism that is rare in ballet theatre these days. Although this reviewer is still comparably new to the trade, more than three decades of classical ballet performance exposure have never – with the exception, perhaps, of Mikhail Baryshnikov in his final performance of “Giselle” in San Francisco – presented an artist with the depth of soul and emotion that Miozzi brought to this role. Through his clear facial expressions there was no doubt as to Siegfried’s thoughts and feelings. A furtive glance at the Jester in Act I implied, “what are you doing with so much wine?” A distraught, distanced look after the princesses’ dance in Act II signaled Siegfried’s apathy towards the (in this version) four ladies. Likewise, after realizing his grave mistake following Odile’s exit, Miozzi is crushed by the momentous error and rushes back to the lake.

Having seen countless tall, Vaganova-spawned Siegfrieds on the Maryinsky stage, each typically with little emotional expression, Miozzi’s talent is striking. It seems that this ex-Kirov dancer has more luck beyond the halls of the pale green, former Imperial Theatre than he would have within it.

The rest of the company did not present the Maryinsky’s level of technique however, and many of the corps de ballet moved expressionlessly through the choreography. At just two and a half hours, this pared down version of the classic is meant to address tourists’ shorter attention spans, and thus the Act I Pas de Trois has been eliminated and only the Spanish and Neopolitan dances remain in Act II. But this briefer performance nonetheless communicated the essentials, and under the swift baton of Ilya Derbilov, the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable and ever-inspiring score. Russian Ballet Theatre provides an option for those wishing to see Maryinsky-level soloists in a more condensed, tourist-friendly version of “Swan Lake”, and depending on the casting, this could well be worth the viewer’s while.

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