CriticalDance Forum

Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program
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Author:  LMCtech [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 1:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

In the stagehands defense, they did that set change in about 30 seconds. I know I counted. I think fly space in Zellerback Hall is limited, so they may have had to carry sets off that would be flown off in other houses. Just a possible explanation.

I really liked the Firebirds tutu, incidentally. Anyway, here's my 2 cents...

Kirov Ballet and Orchestra
Chopiniana, Scheherazade, The Firebird
Oct. 7, 2003
Zellerbach Hall
Berkeley, CA

For many years I have counted the Kirov Ballet in the top five ballet companies in the world. This was purely on reputation, because I had never seen them in person. They were everything I was told they would be. This company, maybe more than any except the Paris Opera Ballet, has history. It’s a long and colorful history that often reflected the upheaval of Russian politics, but always danced at the highest possible level. With the present drama in Russian society and a devastating fire at home, the Tuesday night’s Fokine Program proved that they are still dancing at top form and still connected to their history.

Chopiniana was Fokine’s homage to the romantic era. It premiered in 1908 at the Maryinsky Theater. It is indicative of a style that was antiquated even at that time. It is one of the first plot-less ballets seen on the Maryinsky stage. Although the soloists and principals were very nice, especially Irina Zhelonkina, the real starts of this ballet were the corps de ballet. They moved as one. Every head and arm was at the precise angle. Every torso was pitched forward in that ideal romantic era slant. The bodies were gorgeous, the proportions precise, the feet supple, and the faces beautiful. This was the model corps de ballet. Hopefully, the numerous young dancers in the audience took note. The only man in the ballet Danila Korsuntev was a little disappointing artistically and possessed very little plie. The facility was beautiful, long and lean with well-defined muscles, but Mr. Korsuntev stayed as earth-bound as his female counterparts seemed to float six inches above the stage. His partnering on the other hand was precise and attentive and he made his partner look every bit the Sylph.

Scheherazade is a bit of exotica with very little dancing but more than it’s share of color and atmosphere. When this ballet premiered in Paris in 1910, it caused a sensation that inspired a generation of artists and fashion designers like Erte and Pierrot. All of Paris became crazy for all things “Oriental”. The set and costume artists of the Maryinsky Theater have stunningly recreated the original Leon Bakst designs. This ballet is a bit of a dinosaur. It is dated and could have been perfectly tedious if it hadn’t been for the continued excellence of the corps de ballet (never have emboites been done with such height or enthusiasm), and the charisma of the two principals, Uliana Lopatkina as Zobeide and Igor Zelensky as the Golden Slave. Lopatkina is strikingly gorgeous in body and face and is quite the actress. At one point she lifted her head to Vladimir Ponomarev’s Shah Shahyar, and it is amazing he didn’t drop dead on the spot from the look of daggers she gave him. Zelensky commanded the stage with heartthrob appeal and a humongous jump. His time with New York City Ballet has served him well. The plot was straight out of the 1001 Arabian Nights stories. Complete kitsch, but utterly enjoyable. I could have looked at the set forever. The music is magnificent. I spent countless hours as a child dancing around the living room to this famous music, and I was slightly disappointed by the way Fokine used it. I always imagined a ballet to this music would be grander in its scale. Maybe it is time for a present-day choreographer to take on this music again.

The Firebird consisted of a lot of flapping of arms and little dancing. Only the bird herself was en pointe. The rest of the cast of thousands were dressed either as princesses in head-to-toe virginal white or as hideous creatures with costumes to be envied with Halloween so close. The music however is glorious. This was one of Stravinsky’s early compositions having left Russia after his mentor’s death (Rimsky-Korsakov, the composer of Scheherazade) to seek his fortune in Paris. There he was scooped up by Diaghilev, who allowed him to write whatever music suited him and saw his genius as yet undeveloped. The rhythms and use of Russian folk music in The Firebird was a harbinger of what was to come just a few years later in The Rite of Spring. This ballet looked the least rehearsed of the three on the program. Tatiana Amosova as the title character was a last minute replacement and looked as though she had very little time to rehearse with Victor Baranov, dancing Ivan Tsarevich. Amosova seemed to have spacing problems, needing to clip many of her steps to fit the stage in her first variation. The pas de deux was tentative; she looked insecure. At one point the tutu caught on his costume and ripped a bit. She seemed to settle in by her last triumphant defeat of the evil creatures of Kastchei the sorcerer. Here she commanded the stage and the role. Once again the sets and costumes were recreated from the original Bakst designs. The colors were dark and muted but attention to detail and craft was without equal.

A few words should be said about the orchestra. They were skillfully lead by Mikhail Agrest and Valery Gergiev, who is known to Bay Area audiences as a frequent guest conductor. This group of musicians was as precise and expressive as the corps de ballet. Particular consideration should go out to the un-credited solo violinist in Scheherazade and to the wind and brass soloists in The Firebird.

Author:  djb [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 1:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I was, I admit, happily surprised by Zelensky's performance. While he is an excellent dancer, when I've seen him on videos, he has been one of my favorites. But as a measure of how good I thought he was as the Golden Slave, when he's about to be killed, I mentally shouted "No! Not him!"

Author:  LMCtech [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 1:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I've been thinking a little more about Scheherazade. I think I was disappointed because there was no Scheherazade, the women the darn ballet is named after. I always liked her as a charcter and here she is missing. Someone please chreograph a new version of this!

Here's what the Mercury News has to say...

Kirov dazzles with three classic ballets
By Anita Amirrezvani
Mercury News

Like a master storyteller ensnaring listeners, the Kirov Ballet transported its audience Tuesday to realms as lush as legends and as inventive as dreams.

This was ballet on an uncommonly grand scale, with world-class dancing, opulent sets and costumes, and music that alone was worth the price of admission to the University of California-Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, where the troupe was making its first appearances in the Bay Area in 12 years.

Author:  djb [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 1:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I agree with LMCtech about the expressive performance of the music.

<small>[ 09 October 2003, 05:01 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 1:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I always appreciate Anita's reviews. She always adds a special touch.

Author:  Azlan [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 2:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

You mean yet another Chronicle review with errors or misstatements in it?!

Author:  Gina Ness [ Thu Oct 09, 2003 4:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I attended last eve's performance (Oct.8) and enjoyed every second of it! It was such a thrill to see the Bakst costumes that I have looked at for years as costume sketches by the designer in my old programs on living, breathing, fabulous dancers. Although it might appear that there is not a lot of dancing (by today's standards) going on, these older ballets (specifically Scheherazade and Firebird) with their stylized choreography (you saw how hard the corps was working) are usually really physically difficult and tiring ballets to perform. I was just so impressed by the Kirov dancers...I hope they don't wait 12 more years to come back! Judging by the excitement and comments of the audience members around me, especially after "Scheherazade", I think Fokine's work has held up very well. I enjoyed reading everyone's previous posts about the evening. I wish I could go back this evening and see it all over again!

Author:  Emma Pegler [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 7:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

How lucky to see Lopatkina. I don't think that Zelensky/Lopatkina is a common partnership but then he was not dancing for a while. Lopatkina is quite a wonderful actress and certainly the Russians' favourite.

Going back to earlier questions about Firebird - noise of apples being gathered up has never been something I noticed in either the Kirov production nor Royal Ballet production. However, the noise of people rustling programmes and sweet wrappers has always been a problem during the overture before the curtain lifts. Most people know it is part of the performance but some people think they still have time to get settled!

Author:  djb [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 9:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

I've seen two performances so far, and I'm pleased to say that the audience was very well behaved during the overture. However, I don't think that Chopiniana is meant for applause in the middle of a section. Last night one of the dancers (I don't have my program on me) did the releves en arabesque traveling backwards extremely well, and was loudly applauded. It did rather break the mood. But I was at least happy that it was such a receptive audience. The people went wild over Scheherezade.

<small>[ 10 October 2003, 11:22 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 9:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

DJB you just reminded me of a thought I had during Tuesday night's opening. It's funny to watch the audience's reaction to certain ballets. Although they're two completely different works, sections of Chopiniana are equally (if not more) difficult than Scheherezade. Both ballets have their moments of "flash" ... and yet the audience goes NUTS for the overall flash n' dash of Scheherezade, whereas Chopiniana was more along the lines of polite applause. I relegate the different reactions to two things: 1) sex sells and 2) most people don't know what's technically challenging for a dancer (versus not as challenging).

I would be curious if the same reactions held in other countries as much.

Author:  Azlan [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 11:57 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

But at least it's not the Flint Center!

The SF ballet audience is typically a sophisticated one. The thing is the Kirov brings out a lot of other fans as well, who may not be as knowledgeable. Among the dozens of enthusiastic fans Tuesday night, there were a sprinkling of professional dancers asking, "What's the big deal about that?"

As a side but related note, whenever SFB performs "Othello," the makeup of the crowd changes quite significantly -- a PR person mentioned to me at last season's opening night of that ballet, "There doesn't seem to be a buzz tonight," referring to the audience members who were there for Othello the story rather than the ballet.

Author:  mehunt [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 12:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

Well, I think it's true that sex sells, but dang it all, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a good juicy story, a cool set and great music along with your impeccably trained dancing. I think of stuff I've seen like "Car Man" or Smuin Ballets, which many people seem to look down their noses at, but in a time when everyone is wondering what's happened to ticket sales, these are shows that are selling out.

As to the sprinkling of dancers that Azlan noted ... yeah, I heard the same things and I saw those bourrees that didn't quite cross in the corps, or the tentative turns. But let's remember, these poor dancers travelled from Russia (I was told they got here Saturday night?) they're jet lagged, they get like one stage rehearsal, Gergiev is conducting like a maniac... I can very definitely cut them some slack. If you can come out like Lopatkina and Zelensky and just tear it up, even with all that in mind.... well, that's why they're international stars. But I wouldn't pick on the company based on what we saw that opening night!

Author:  mehunt [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 12:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

For those of you waiting in anticipation of the rest of the tour dates, Please visit our new Kirov-usa page, which brings together coverage of the tour as well as past information from their recent London blowout!

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 1:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

Oh, mehunt, I completely agree. I just am always surprised when people walk away from something as gorgeous as Chopiniana going "so what"? I feel like "It's the Kirov, and it's Chopin, and they're beautiful, that's what!"

And yes, the dancers landed Saturday night (late). Having done the St Petersburg to SFO flights several times myself, I can attest to the fact that we're lucky they are awake at 8 p.m. less than two days after arrival! That 11 hour time difference is a killer -- and that's when you're *not* trying to perform! ;-)

Author:  djb [ Fri Oct 10, 2003 1:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Kirov in the USA, 2003 - Fokine Program

It was interesting to see the difference between Zelensky on opening night and Zelensky two days later. I liked him as the Golden Slave in any case, but he let out all the stops on Thursday night.

I recall reading someone's opinion that the 32 fouettes in Swan Lake actually do have dramatic intent, which I still don't believe. But on Thursday, it certainly felt as if the Golden Slave's tours a la seconde near the end of the orgy made perfect dramatic sense. They had such speed and power, and the many pirouettes that followed were so perfect, that I couldn't think of anything else that could so perfectly symbolize...whew! I need a cigarette.

<small>[ 10 October 2003, 04:05 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

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