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The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden
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Author:  Cassandra [ Thu Jan 06, 2005 11:14 am ]
Post subject:  The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Balanchine Triple Bill
Baden Baden
22nd December 2004

The Kirov Ballet’s winter season in Baden Baden is now becoming something of a tradition and this Christmas I travelled to that very friendly German town for the first time, thanks to Ryanair thoughtfully providing new direct flights from London to Baden-Karlsruhe and making the journey a piece of cake.

The imposing Festspielhaus theatre is constructed out of the façade of the ornate 19th century railway station building dating from when the town was one of the most fashionable destinations in Europe. Dostoyevsky played the tables at the famous casino there where he lost heavily and was inspired to write “The Gambler”. I also tried my hand at roulette and also lost: nice to have something in common with Dostoyevsky.

Although the front of the Festspielhaus is old, the theatre interior is brand spanking new, with a vast stage that gladdens the hearts of balletomanes and allows productions to be seen at their best. The first programme was the Balanchine triple bill of “The Four Temperaments”, “La Valse” and “Ballet Imperial”, which on paper looked a real treat but in reality was a tad disappointing. The problem was that “The Four Temperaments” was danced rather badly on opening night, the low spot of an indifferent performance being a particularly clumsy fall caused entirely by very careless partnering. The poor girl involved recovered quickly but a downbeat atmosphere prevailed: not a performance for the company to be proud of. On the second night things improved noticeably, but somehow the Kirov doesn’t seem able to catch the mood of this piece.

This was followed by “La Valse”, which was graced by the presence of Yuliana Lopatkina in the leading role. Lopatkina’s appearances are now few and far between and there was a tangible feeling of collective excitement on this night when the Kirov’s prima was billed to dance. In this ‘death and the maiden’ concept the enigmatic Lopatkina was perfect as the young woman singled out by a handsome man who turns out to be death himself. Balanchine’s “La Valse” is actually two compositions by Ravel as La Valse is preceded in this work by his Valses nobles et sentimentales making it longer than the version by Ashton with which I am familiar. There is a distinctive early fifties feel about the ballet with the three female soloists in the ballet’s opening wearing the ‘ballerina length’ gowns and evening gloves so typical of the period. They also had hairstyles that put me very much in mind of Moira Shearer in “The Red Shoes”. All danced well, but Lopatkina was mesmerizing: what is it about this dancer that seems to elevate her to another plane? She has a narrow repertoire, rations her performances and has been plagued by injury throughout her career and yet she inspires almost a cult following, with fans converging from across Europe to see her. It’s impossible to analyze her dancing: one can only accept that she is one of those exceptional artists blessed by the gods.

“Ballet Imperial” was the third Balanchine ballet of the evening, and I can’t think of a work more suited to the Kirov. They have already made “Serenade” their own, possibly because of a natural affinity with Tchaikovsky and “Ballet Imperial” danced to Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto would seem to me to be ideal for them in the way it recalls the Maryiinsky of Balanchine’s youth. Although the evening had started rather unfortunately, the Kirov dancers swung into top gear for this challenging work, led by the very youthful and technically secure Victoria Tereshkina who simply dazzled in the leading role. Her partner Andrian Fadeyev made a romantic, courtly cavalier and the corps de ballet was on top form. After such an uncharacteristic shaky start, they managed to finish with a triumph.

Author:  ripowam [ Thu Jan 06, 2005 12:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Since the company premiere last April, the Kirov has unfortunately continued to botch The Four Temperamnts, due, in my opinion, to very dubious casting -- management favorites slotted into roles they have no business dancing or are much too young to be able to comprehend. Much of the Kirov's Four T's can only be called infantile.

Author:  Cassandra [ Thu Jan 06, 2005 12:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Yes, Incomprehension may be the stumbling block. I asked if there had been any lack of proper rehearsal for this ballet and was assured that it had been thoroughly rehearsed. A number of Kirov 'groupies' had turned out for this and even the most blinkered of those fans was saying the performance had been disastrous.

I've seen a number of companies attempt 4 T's over the years and most have given very sound performances. The San Francisco Ballet danced this in London just a couple of months ago and provided almost a benchmark for this work, so with that rosy memory in mind it was something of a jolt to witness the Kirov's incompetence that night. The following night they did a lot better with some changes of cast, but the ballet simply doesn't seem to suit them.

Author:  ripowam [ Thu Jan 06, 2005 1:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

How was Tkhachenko in the 2nd Ballet Imperial?
And who danced the pas de Trois?

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Jan 11, 2005 4:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Tkachenko was excellent in the second cast: although not as technically proficient as Tereshkina, she had a glamour about her that really fitted the role. She was also fortunate in having Igor Kolb as her partner; the two looked good together and brought a real sense of occasion to the piece.

The pas de trois was frankly below par on both evenings. For the record the dancers were:

22/12 Osmolkina, Zyusin, Lobuchin
23/12 Novikova, Pimonov, Shklyarov

I think it was Clement Crisp who once described the second and first female principals in this ballet as a Grand Duchess preparing the way for a Tsarina, and that’s how I've always seen it. Although the two pairs of principals managed to look regal, the others didn't. Neither Osmolkina nor Novikova put me in mind of grand duchesses. Another example perhaps of the imprudence of casting relatively inexperienced dancers in important roles.

<small>[ 12 January 2005, 02:54 AM: Message edited by: Cassandra ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jan 12, 2005 12:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

The Kirov still seems to be coming to terms with introducing new work into the rep. Howard Sayette had a very difficult time setting "Les Noces" on the Kirov and others report similar problems. Dancers are called away to other rehearsals and discussion of tempi can be "limited".

No doubt the lesson will be learnt, but it does seem to be taking some time. One visitor recalled her frustration at a leading dancer's absence. Asking the reason, she was told that the dancer was rehearsing "Swan Lake". The visitor responded: "The Kirov has been performing "Swan Lake" for over 100 years and I have only had 3 days!"

<small>[ 12 January 2005, 01:11 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Cassandra [ Fri Jan 14, 2005 9:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Swan Lake
The kirov Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden Baden
26th December 2004 (matinee)

The last time I saw the Kirov dance “Swan Lake” was in London getting on for eighteen months ago and I wasn’t too happy with what I saw. At the two performances that I attended, each Odette danced very much to her own agenda with each pas de deux comprising more a series of poses, the better to show off near acrobatic ability than the gentle flow of movement that Ivanov’s choreography needs. So at the Boxing Day matinee I approached the theatre with apprehension, wondering just what ugly distortions I was going to witness this time around.

Happily my fears were unfounded as Victoria Tereshkina danced Odette/Odile with both taste and integrity. Regardless of her youth, Tereshkina has a natural feel for the role and her expressive body can portray sorrow and vulnerability in the white acts and brazen sensuality in the black act. What a technician this girl is! Her fouettés (straightforward singles) were completely on the spot – she didn’t seem to travel an inch. Normally I tend to purse my lips in disapproval when a dancer of Tereshkina’s age is given roles so very early, but this girl clearly doesn’t know the meaning of fear as she tackles one Everest of a role after another with equilibrium.

Her prince was that fine classicist, Igor Kolb, he of the soft landings and beautiful lines who just seems to get better and better in the part, he is completely immersed in his role and it goes without saying that his partnering was immaculate. The rest of the cast couldn’t be faulted with the first act pas de trois including the incomparable Zhelonkina and in the third act the national dances were breathtaking, the Spanish dance in particular was utterly thrilling with the great Galina Rakhmanova leading what could be the definitive quartet of Papava, Baimuradov and Merkuriev. The backbone of the ballet is of course the female corps de ballet and they danced to perfection, their only flaw being the noisiness of their shoes, surely something that can be remedied. It’s a pity this problem can’t be addressed, as it’s the only negative aspect of the most satisfying production around.

<small>[ 20 January 2005, 10:51 AM: Message edited by: Cassandra ]</small>

Author:  Cassandra [ Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

The Nutcracker
Kirov Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden Baden
28th December 2004 (matinee)

As it was the Christmas season, I suppose it was inevitable that the Kirov took its version of “The Nutcracker” to Baden Baden. Nutcracker is a ballet that I always approach with a mixture of pleasure and trepidation; pleasure because of my love, no, – adoration – of the Tchaikovsky score and trepidation because I’ve watched more terrible productions of this ballet than any other. Happily the Kirov Vainonen version is one of the very best around and I had another reason to approach the Festspielhaus high on expectation because Zhelonkina was to dance the role of Masha.

Irina Zhelonkina is a dancer who for me always stands apart from the rest. Her beautiful line and faultless musicality are matched with her singular ability to dance almost silently, making you wonder if her feet actually touch the stage or not: she is a dancer formed of thistledown. This was to be my first experience of seeing her in a full-length role, as this jewel of a dancer has only danced supporting roles in London, her full-length appearances being mostly in Russia and Japan. She is a dancer who represents the true Kirov style, a style in danger of being jettisoned in favour of “extreme technique” she understands that ballet is about poetry and not about acrobatics.

The first act is always a test for a ballerina, not technically of course, but she has to convince us that she is a child among children, which is rarely an easy thing to do.
The Kirov doesn’t use actual children but short girls from the corps pretending to be excited kids at a party and as always in that situation, they don’t quite bring it off. Zhelonkina’s Masha is a quiet dreamy girl, lacking the rumbustiousness of her peers; she is gentler and more thoughtful than the others, at the same time enjoying the Christmas events every bit as intensely. When waking to discover the marauding rats, she registers first disbelief and then defiance, but it is at the transformation of the nutcracker into the prince that Zhelonkina weaves her magic spell.

Her prince was Anton Korsakov, the first time I had seen him in a princely role, and what a prince he makes: handsome and sensitive, he has a tremendous rapport with Zhelonkina who simply melted into his arms in the pas de deux as if experiencing some private ecstasy. They danced this scene so beautifully that when the curtain came down for the interval, my eyes were moist with tears, overcome by the sheer loveliness of what I had seen.

In the third act the divertissements were performed with considerable panache with both Islom Baimuradov in the Chinese dance and Feodor Murashov in the trepak being rewarded by gales of applause in the middle of their solos. I have my reservations about the pas de deux being supplemented by four male cavaliers. I find them obtrusive, rather like Benno in “Swan Lake”; this is Masha’s moment of triumph and surely a moment when two is company and six is a crowd. All the same this was a dazzling finale to a performance that was by far the highlight of this Kirov season and as I mentioned, “The Nutcracker” has always been my favourite Tchaikovsky ballet score and it was played with total sympathy by that matchless Kirov orchestra, adding to the enchantment.

As I left the theatre, clutching the rose that the Festspielhaus staff charmingly present to all female members of the audience, I stepped out into a scene as pretty as a Christmas card as soft snow fell transforming the town into a backdrop of the ballet itself. A magical moment to round off an exceptional afternoon.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Thu Jan 20, 2005 2:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Cassandra, on behalf of all the Kirov lovers on CriticalDance, thanks very much for these reports. So pleased you had such a magical experience at the matinee on 20th January.

<small>[ 20 January 2005, 03:42 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Cassandra [ Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Kirov Ballet in Baden Baden

Gala Programme
Kirov Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden Baden
29th December 2004

A Balanchine Sandwich

The closing performance given by the Kirov in Baden Baden was a special gala, but given with one complete ballet and an entire act of a full-length, both by Balanchine. Sandwiched between were the predictable Don Q. pas de deux and several gala numbers that kept being changed almost up until the day of performance.

The evening began with a performance of Balanchine’s “The Prodigal Son” with Andrei Merkuriev in the title role. I saw Merkuriev dance this at Covent Garden a couple of years ago and since then he has sharpened his interpretation into that of a young romantic yearning for experience and becoming a gullible prey for the unscrupulous denizens of the world outside his home. Daria Pavlenko was the siren, more of a bad girl than an out and out villainess; she isn’t quite the man-eater I’ve seen other dancers portray in the past. Merkuriev was very moving as the repentant sufferer gathered up in his father’s arms in the final scene.

The diverts opened with the pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty” danced by two young hopefuls Ekaterina Osmolkina and Vladimir Shklarov, they danced nicely enough but couldn’t give the piece the sense of occasion that it requires. This was followed by the Auber “Grand pas Classique” with Victoria Tereshkina and Anton Korsakov, two dancers with the ‘Wow Factor’. This pas de deux is something of a rarity presumably because it’s so fiendishly difficult: perfect timing and control are what is needed for this one. There is a video of the Grand pas danced by Yuri Soloviev and Gabriella Komleva and it must rate as one of the most outstanding pieces of dance on film in existence. If you want to see classical ballet at its most perfect, you watch that video and it goes without saying that they are an impossible act to follow, and yet… these dancers had a pretty good go, with Korsakov’s immaculate turns and Tereshkina’s precise pointe work making them worthy heirs to their illustrious predecessors. For me, this was the highlight of the evening.

More Balanchine followed, with a careful rendering of the “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux” by Olesia Novikova and Andrian Fadeyev. Nicely danced, but not enough oomph. The next item was “Le Spectre de la Rose” with the appealing casting of Irina Zhelonkina and Igor Kolb. Zhelonkina’s lightness and refinement meant the role of the young girl fitted her like a glove and Kolb responded to her fragility by portraying the rose as a disembodied being, a gentle spirit conjured up from her dreams and dancing with a softness and suppleness that complimented Zhelonkina’s delicacy perfectly. I’ve seen this work many times over the years, but I feel it is only Russian dancers that actually understand the inspiration behind this ephemeral piece.

Inevitably we finished with the “Don Quixote” pas de deux danced by Sophia Gumerova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko. I was surprised to learn it was to be Gumerova’s first crack at Don Q. and was interested to see what she would make of the role of Kitri as I’ve always considered her more of a lyrical dancer than a soubrette, but she had some attractive moments, especially in the solo with the fan but her fouettés wandered about a bit towards the end. An impressive first attempt though.

Back to Balanchine for the finale, with the beautiful Lopatkina dancing the lead in “Diamonds” with the self effacing Ivanchenko. Over the years Lopatkina has made this role her own, by turning something that I’ve always considered quintessentially American into a Russian flavoured version of this glittering masterpiece. Watching her dance is to be transported to the Russia of old as she has the bearing of an imperial ballerina but blended with an individual warmth that makes her beloved by so many. Although “Diamonds” is very much a complete work in itself, I still felt myself pining for a complete performance of “Jewels”, I find it odd though that although “Diamonds and “Rubies” are often given on their own as separate ballets, the beautiful “Emeralds” is not.

After the performance there was a “meet the Dancers” event held in the Festspielhaus’s spacious main foyer with a number of company members chatting to the audience and posing for photographs over a glass of wine or two. Among those participating I spotted Gumerova, Pavlenko, Tereshkina, Fadeyev and Kolb surrounded by their many admirers. A nice touch to finish off such an enjoyable week.

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