Imperial Russian ballet
25th December 2004
On Christmas day I was unfaithful to the Kirov and boarded a train to Rastatt, a town a few miles to the north of Baden Baden. I had heard that the Imperial Russian Ballet was appearing there in “The Nutcracker” and as it was some time since I last saw this company, the thought of seeing them again was irresistible. Not irresistible to my travelling companion though, who grumbled, “This had better be good” as we made our way through the wind and rain to the railway station.
For those unfamiliar with this company, the Imperial Russian Ballet was formed by that charismatic former Bolshoi principal, Gediminas Taranda, under the guidance of Maya Plisetskaya. Unlike other new Russian touring companies the IRB has its own school in Moscow and over the years has taken a serious attitude to new choreography. I have been following this group from its inception when it was originally called Pilgrim Dance and have seen it grow from a small group of Bolshoi and Kirov stars to a full scale touring company. In the past though I had always seen mixed programmes and this was to be the first full-length classic I had seen them perform.
Their production is very clearly based on the familiar Kirov Vainonen version and attributed to him in the programme, but there are certain changes here and there most notably the waltz of the snowflakes, the choreography being credited to G. Taranda himself, which is not unattractive. One change that I prefer is that the pas de deux in the last act is just that: the four lifting assistants have been banished. A very unusual aspect of this touring production is that the child roles are played by actual children, who also come on as a gang of very cute rats scurrying across the stage and off it to interact with other kids in the audience, later they return as angels and pixies. In fact I got the feeling that the production has been adapted to appeal to the younger audience that packs out theatres across Europe for this traditional Christmas entertainment. This feeling was reinforced by Vitautus Taranda’s playing of Drosselmeyer not as a slightly sinister presence, but as an avuncular, rather silly chap who likes nothing better than being the centre of attention and even flirts with one of the grown up guests. He is visibly upset though when after distributing other presents to the kids, none of them appears to want his nutcracker doll, except for Masha of course.
But what was there for us adults? Well, two exceptional leading dancers who far exceeded my expectations. As Masha the tiny, very pretty Alia Tanykpaeva was young enough and small enough to look credible amid a throng of 7 – 12 year-olds. Facially a little like her compatriot Asylmuratova (both from Kazakhstan), Tanykpaeva is both a technically precise and lyrical dancer, a happy child in a fairytale world. As her prince, Kirill Radev was just flawless and delivered a performance of classical excellence. Good looking and with a compact physique, Radev dances with total ease and has the wonderful legs and feet that immediately lead one to suspect Vaganova training; he is an accomplished partner making the double work look entirely seamless and presented his ballerina with courtesy and affection.
The dancers of the corps de ballet were admirable, dancing well and looking as if they were enjoying themselves; among the national dances I was very taken with the girl in the Spanish dance, Anastasia Micheikina, whom I discovered from the programme is the second cast for Masha. I imagine she is very good in the role.
I enjoyed the evening very much, most of the production is similar to the Kirov’s and the few changes here and there don’t make a lot of difference overall. My only reservation was the prominence given to the children, some of whom sat at the back of the stage during the national dances as a group of pixie musicians. Although, I don’t mind seeing children in this ballet (seeing adults skipping around as kids can be painful) I don’t know how this production would fare with a more sophisticated audience, although as I’ve mentioned the dancing of the principals was of the very highest quality.
When we left the theatre the wind had died down and the rain had stopped. I remembered how my companion had warned me “this had better be good” on the way to the theatre. I didn’t have to ask him if he thought it had been, the wide smile on his face said it all.