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14th International "Stars of the White Nights" Fes
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Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Mon Jun 26, 2006 1:24 pm ]
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Interesting. Thanks Kate. :D

And now, back to our scheduled programming: the latest from St. Petersburg before "Golden Age" hits the stage two days hence.


“Romeo and Juliet”
Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre
24 June 2006

St. Petersburg, Russia -- By Catherine Pawlick

Fans of Shakespeare’s classic, “Romeo and Juliet”, tend to divide into camps behind their favorite version of the ballet. Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko and Leonid Lavrovsky are three of the most well-known creators of this tragic love story in ballet form, and their respective compositions offer slightly different flavoring to the passion and pathos at the core of the libretto.

For years this reviewer has been a staunch adherent to the MacMillan camp – American Ballet Theatre’s version in the late 1980s was a full evening of entertainment with some of ballet’s greatest stars in leading roles – the young Julie Kent as Juliet, the bouncy, lovable Johan Renvall as Mercutio, and even Andris Liepa guesting from the Bolshoi Ballet at the time as an idyllically handsome Romeo. And Macmillan’s well-formed production seemed the ideal balletic incarnation of the story, from the initial busy town square scene to Romeo climbing the balcony trellis onstage. But on June 24 of this year, the dramatic strength of Leonid Lavrovsky’s version as danced on the Mariinsky stage by some of the Kirov’s most talented dancers, proved that defection to the other camp is now a tempting maneuver. The ballet was danced with an unexpected but welcome zeal by every character, bringing a captivating virtuosity to the entire production, and underlining the strengths of Lavrovsky’s version.

The production has points of contention. Perhaps the largest is the famous balcony scene. In Lavrovsky’s version, we are on the balcony, Romeo and Juliet dance on the entire stage, framed only by upstage pillars that suggest part of the balcony construction. In the MacMillan version, the lovers in fact dance just below the balcony – Juliet’s window and abode are upstage, Romeo approaches from below, she descends, and the famous pas de deux begins. Both approaches have their benefits, and it is up to the viewer to determine his or her preference.

Should one prefer the “pas de deux below the balcony” approach, Lavrovsky’s focus on choreographic pattern and drama rather than staging is a strong one, and, in defense of Shakespeare, he has adhered to the idea of a scene on the balcony itself. This particular performance was the most effusive display of drama that Kirov dancers have infused into “Romeo” in the past two years.

Maya Dumchenko’s Juliet was an essay in joy – joy to be alive, joy to be coming of age, joy to have found her true love. From her first entrance with the pillow tossed at the Nurse, one was reminded of the ebullience of the young Galina Ulanova. Here the famous ballerina’s traditions seemed close by in the form of Dumchenko’s light jumps, quick footwork and airy port de bras. She floated through pique attitude turns and her every jump, from small jete to large, was bouyant and bright. Her essence was that of a young, beautiful innocent girl, full of energy and zest for life, but shy and unprepared for the Fate that will befall her.

In his debut as Romeo, Anton Korsakov was unpredictably well-suited to the role. Typically more of the bravura type, he portrayed the lovesick dreamer with believability and clearly defined characterization. His more muscular build nicely complimented Dumchenko’s slight frame, creating a balance between airy light femininity and strong, grounded masculinity. His Romeo was neither overacted nor too bland. Especially in the sword fight, one had the impression that his desire for revenge came from deep within. During the couple’s partnering sequences, aside from a few jolty promenades, all of the lifts and turns went off seamlessly. Korsakov is nothing if not strong, and nearly any version of this ballet requires a master at partnering.

Before we even got to the star-crossed lovers, however, a rare and pleasant surprise came in the form of one of Romeo’s friends. Now-pedagog Igor Petrov returned to this ballet in a somewhat rare appearance at the opening of Act One. Often cast as Carabosse in “The Sleeping Beauty”, here Petrov was easily visible for his quick smile and clear gestures. His innate sense of comedy and mime came through in the dance, almost drawing attention away from the others onstage for his know-how and inborn theatricality.

As if that weren’t enough, some other equally welcome treats were in-store. Islam Baimuradov danced a flamboyant, evil Tybalt, and stole the stage with his seething mal intent. One of the company’s most talented actors, Baimuradov infuses all of his characters with an inner raison d’etre: every step, glance and gesture adheres to the character’s mindset and placement within the libretto. The result is always a well-rounded role, acted with the utmost forethought, but still spontaneous enough to remain fresh.

Maxim Zuizin danced the Troubador with careful precision alongside the ever-classical Ksenia Ostreikovskaya. Blessed with the most beautiful legs in the company and despite a recent injury, Zuizin has all the capabilities to become an international star. A few more ounces of self-confidence and some support from backstage is all he needs; one hopes he acquires both.

Alexandra Gronskaya’s haughty, cold manner as Lady Capulet provided a stark contrast to the maternal warmth of Elena Bazhenova as Juliet’s Nurse. These two characterizations reveal not only Shakespeare’s obvious genius as playwright, but these particular dancers’ talents in portraying divergent emotional poles, and Lavrovsky’s brilliance in rendering them into silent forms of movement.

Also at his acting best was Sergei Popov as the vain and beautiful Paris. Popov, who continues to dance more frequently in various roles, portrayed both the suitor’s interest in Juliet and his cool departure at her rejection of his advances. In their brief parent-incited bedroom meeting, Dumchenko’s eyes glazed over as if she had died inside. When Popov took her wrist, her steps became mechanical as her stare continued out onto the horizon, and it was clear she only reticently accepted the future her parents had planned for her. At the same time, Popov’s strong interest in Juliet was readily apparent in his constant gaze, resulting in a visible conflict of interest and heart that drove Juliet yet nearer to her ultimate demise.

Boris Gruzin drew a roar of applause for his conducting efforts this evening. The Kirov will be hard pressed to offer a repeat performance of “Romeo and Juliet” with the same spark and sizzle that occurred tonight.

Author:  Buddy [ Tue Jun 27, 2006 6:50 pm ]
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Catherine, thank you again for your continued excellent reviews.

For About Two Years I Have Read Each One Carefully.

I make notes about them and I use them all for future reference, as I did in DC and NYC two weeks ago. This has added a great deal to my enjoyment and appreciation of these performances.

Also as fedora has pointed out...

Your 'Respect' For These Wonderful Artists In Your Comments Is 'Exemplary' and Extremely Commendable.

Since tomorrow (Wednesday) will be the debut of Noah Gelber's "The Golden Age" and hopefully you will be there to tell us about it, could I make a few pre-perfomance comments.

I saw the premiere of Noah Gelber's "The Overcoat" at the Mariinsky festival last March and was very impressed. I in fact think that he has the ablilty to be one of the greatest choreographers of our time---- at least.

One thing that I really noticed was the Powerful and Meaningful Moves that he Invented for each character. This might be something that you will notice tomorrow, if you do attend.

In "The Overcoat" the Tailor and the Policeman come to mind immediately. The Tailor had more subtle but still very expressive moves to define his character. The Policeman had overt expression to define his 'socially molded' character (not necessarily an easy characterization to describe).

The word-- "Inventive" --I feel is a 'key' to describing Noah Gelber's choreography.

(By the way with my limited knowledge of Forsythe, with whom Noah Gelber has long been associated, the element of 'Expressiveness' and 'Inventiveness' may have been carried over to "The Overcoat", but the free-wheeling aspect ("In The Middle Somewhat Elevated") definitely was not in my view).

From what I have read, some very 'Senior' members of the ballet community may be performing a significant part in "The Golden Age". With Noah Gelber's ability with 'Drama' and the 'Choreography of Characterization' this could be fascinating.

If you do attend, Catherine, I hope that you have a wonderful evening!

Author:  aya nishikiori [ Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:59 am ]
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Hi Catherine, I read your review on R&J and enjoyed it very much. I myself have also just returned from a 6-day trip to St. Petersburg (my very first time!) yesterday. Naturally, I had to go to the ballet, I saw 3 wonderful performances (Gala at the Theater of Musical Comeday, Jewels and R&J) - it wa s a GLORIOUS experience. Anyway, I wanted to ask some questions regarding the casts for R&J - is "Troubadour" the man in white costume with little red hat, who danced with Xenia Ostreikovskaya? (By the way, Ostreikovskaya was so elegant and beautiful, my husband - who had never seen ballet R&J - thought at first she was the Juliet; I can understand this very well.) There were 2 couples dancing with tambourines in the second act before the fight scene - are they credited as "folk dance" in the program? Who is the young, blond man (who looked like a nephew of Konstantin Zaklinsky) - is this Yachmennikov oder Ioannisyan? I am not so familiar with the Lavrovsky version (I have mostly seen R&J Gergorovich and MacMillan till now) and was a bit confused about the names of the dancers. I'd appreciate it very much if you could enlighten me a little. Thanks.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:04 am ]
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Hello Aya,

Thanks for your post. I'm happy to answer your questions. First off, I'm so happy you got a chance to visit St. Petersburg and see the Mariinsky on this stage! It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I think they do wonders here that aren't often seen in the West -- I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Onto your questions: Yes the Troubador is always the partner to Juliet's best friend -- both wear white, he wears the red beret (Not sure if there is any dramatic reason for this aside from setting him aside from the other men in white). You saw Maxim Zuizin with Ksenia O, as you noted.

The young blonde you saw as folk dancer was Artyem Yachmennikov, and the dark haired man was Keren Iohannisan.


Buddy - Thank you for your post, and the compliments! I have to say I'm flattered and appreciate your support. It means a great deal. Should you return to St. Petersburg again, I would be very happy to meet you. It is rare that I am in contact with any Americans or non-Russian speakers who follow ballet. (Much less two years' worth of my reviews! :-))

I've attended some of the new Golden Age's rehearsals and have seen much of what he has choreographed. The inventiveness is there but the characterization this time around is displayed in different ways. This production is equally as "theatrical" as Shinell was -- well I will hold off for now on saying more until I see the actual performance.

You are correct -- Gabriela Komleva will return to the stage (!!) along with Sergei Berezhnoi in the premiere tonight (three hours hence) as the Older Couple. Irina Golub with Misha Lobukhin will dance the Younger Couple. In the new libretto, jointly written by Noah and Konstantine Uchitill, these are the same couple, but separated by time. The ballet begins when the elder couple meet at a reunion, happenstance, via photographs of when they were young. Therein begins a flashback that tells the story, which I shall cover more fully in my review.

I'm very curious to see what the public thinks of it.

Author:  aya nishikiori [ Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:28 am ]
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Hi Catherine, many thanks for your reply & comments! Yes, it was certainly a once in a life time experience, even though - I think I will surely be returning - it is just 2.5 hours flight from Colonge/Bonn where we live; I've seen the Mariinsky Ballet all over the world (in Japan, USA, London, Paris, B-Baden, etc) and seeing them at the Mariinsky is however very special.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Jun 30, 2006 5:53 am ]
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Aya - Oh wow. You are close by then. For some reason I thought you were probably from the States. For me, being from San Francisco, we rarely get treated to Kirov visits -- not like DC and LA do. Much less Europe! You're lucky to be so close. Come back and visit :-).

Author:  jpc [ Fri Jun 30, 2006 1:32 pm ]
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Catherine Pawlick wrote:
Therein begins a flashback that tells the story, which I shall cover more fully in my review.

Hello Catherine,
I've been checking Critical Dance obsessively since the premiere of
the Shostakovich/Gelber Golden Age, hoping to read your review of the premiere.

Are we going to have a renascence of the narrative ballet?

Is this the place your review would appear?

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:04 am ]
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jpc, yes. here it is.


“The Golden Age”
Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre
28 June 2006

St. Petersburg, Russia -- By Catherine Pawlick

The Mariinsky Theatre’s new ballet, “The Golden Age” is a theatrical production, short on ballet and long on pantomime, that takes full advantage of some modern, computerized effects in an almost broadway-esque remake of Shostakovich’s original version.

A small team of individuals cooperated to recreate the old ballet into this new adaptation. Based on Dmitri Shostakovich’s original creation that debuted at the Leningrad State Academic Theatre (now the Mariinsky) in 1930, the new version was overseen by Stage Director Andrei Prikotenko who has won awards for his directing work elsewhere in St. Petersburg, and was hired specifically for this task. The ballet has a revised libretto by theatre historian and playwright Konstantin Uchitel, and a slightly trimmed score attended to by the skilled concertmaster Ludmila Sveshnikova. Noah Gelber was responsible for the production’s choreography with help from Prikotenko in the larger, crowd scenes, stand-ins and other, non-choreographic production points. Costumes by Mariinsky resident costumer Tatiana Noginova were nothing if not dramatic, beautiful and consistent in taste and style. Tugan Sokhiev conducted the premiere masterfully.

This collective effort culminated in rather unique result. The three and three-quarter hour spectacle opens a la Forsythe: the audience is let into the house only after the third bell to an exposed stage, with a photographer circa 1930s working in his dark room. On the large scrim upstage is a screen on which a black-and-white slide show is displayed once the music begins.

(However, it should be noted that this creative beginning meant the entire audience was crammed into the theatre’s narrow hallways in sweltering heat, some waiting as long as 20 minutes to be let into the house. By the time the large crowd found its seats, the production was at least ten minutes late. One hopes that for future premieres the audience will at least be allowed to enter at a normal hour to avoid these inconvenient delays, and to keep things running on time.)

The element of photography is used in “The Golden Age” to link actors, scenes and the motive of memory in time, memory and time. In a departure from both Grigorovich’s version and the original libretto, this story begins in a park setting, entitled “the labyrinth of memory” in which veterans from World War Two from various countries are gathering for a reunion based on old photographs. The 80 and 90 year-olds each carry pictures of themselves as youths, in an attempt to identify each other.

Madame Sofia, played by the illustrious Gabriela Komleva, is sitting in the park with a group of pupils. She recognizes a man she knew many years before. Sergei Berezhnoi, who plays the role of Old Alexander, approaches with his photograph, and the two recognize each other. They first met in this same park 70 years ago. This happenstance meeting shocks them both, and they shift into a reverie of times past. Thus the ballet begins a series of flashbacks between present day (2000) and past (1930).

At the close of this first scene, a giant 50-foot tall camera, much resembling the train from “Anna Karenina”, is rolled onstage to photograph all of the reunion attendees together. This camera is rolled back onstage periodically between scenes linking past and present via giant on-stage photographs that are projected onto the giant upstage scrim.

The first flashback entails the arrival of the Soviet athletic team in western Europe. Mr. von Klein, danced by the talented Andrei Ivanov, is a westerner intent on making the team members feel at home, but he overdoes it in his drunken stupor. From exaggerated facial expressions to over-enthusiastic gestures, von Klein was determined to be as hospitable as possible. Ivanov’s hilarious acting was one of the performance highlights.

Then, after a training session, two of the athletes, Young Alexander, danced by Mikhail Lobukhin, and Vladimir, danced by Islam Baimuradov, remain behind and notice a young gymnast, Young Sofia, danced by Irina Golub, teaching a group of children. The boys join her somewhat humorous stretch session in which Sofia and Alexander realize neither speaks the other’s language. Before long Sofia’s boyfriend Heinrich, danced by the easily evil Dmitrii Pikhachev, a strict, well-to-do, abusive sort, appears to take her to a reception in honor of the opening of the athletic games.

Pre-reception, a black-and-white film is projected onto the upstage scrim. It cleverly depicts the dancers, decked out in 1930s evening wear, arriving at the reception via one of the Mariinsky Theatre’s elegant staircases. The feel is retro: high tech projection used to display a black-and-white film intended to appear circa 1930.

To continue with the libretto, Sofia is the daughter of an important western diplomat, and at the reception Heinrich won’t allow her to be seen with the Soviet athlete. An argument occurs, Sofia is asked to leave and insists on staying at the ball. The romantic tension is similar to that of “Romeo and Juliet” – the lovers cannot be together for family position and cultural differences prevent them. Act One concludes with Old Alexander and Madame Sofia back in the park. The memories of the past are too strong for Sofia and she collapses in Alexander’s arms.

The action in Act One moves swiftly, but the real dancing sections are limited, as they will be throughout the production. There is the initial stroll of two young lovers, Anton Pimenov with Anna Lavrinenko, who present the contrast between relationships now and those 70 years ago. Pimenov depicts a typical 21st century guy being led by his girl: Lavrinenko yanks him into position, places his hand in hers, in general controls the relationship. Interaction between Old Alexander and Sophia, on the other hand, is softer, and there is much arm-in-arm initiated by Alexander, but this becomes blurred with their ‘language of gesture’ that is defined in the course of the evening. There is also a pair of girls dancing with a tightrope, Elena Vasiokovitch and Valeria Martiniouk, who have a very brief stay onstage, performing any number of pique turns and bourrees en pointe. In passing four soccer players in normal clothing flirt with girls sunbathing, while two ‘fast-walking’ joggers speed upstage. This all sets the tone of the park adequately enough, but is background to the main action of the libretto. One immediately has the impression of watching a silent play, where pantomime and gesture pull the libretto forward, and any dance involved is almost mere decoration.

Act Two opens with Madame Sofia in the hospital. For this scene, Komleva is wheeled in on a gurney, and a camera attached to the lighting rack films her from above, and projects the image onto the back scrim. Other images of soccer matches are projected as well.
A flashback to the soccer match ensues, in which Alexander is wounded and Sofia comes to deliver first aid. This shifts to the young couple, Golub and Lobukhin, returning to the stage. Alexander is impressed by Sofia’s own flexibility; she tries to “stretch” him out of his injury. In this scene, again the dancing is minimal, but the steps that the soccer players perform are cleverly inventive. The majority of the scene involves mime and gesture.

The second scene shifts to a cabaret show, featuring Olga, the glamorous movie star, danced appropriately by Ekaterina Kondaurova, whose glorious wardrobe is different in every scene. (She had appeared initially at the reception for the athletes, where she had taken a liking to Vladimir and helped encourage the coupling of Alexander and Sofia, taking Sofia, specifically, under her wing). Olga here performs a dance similar to the seven veils idea for the cabaret audience, among whom are Sofia, Alexander and Vladimir. When a group of acrobats appear to entertain the guests, Olga helps Sofia and Alexander escape briefly for some alone-time. The couple flee to the stadium and dance their first pas de deux together. At the end of the dance they have their photo taken together – a giant black and white image of Golub and Lobukhin in costume is then projected upstage – as a memento.

Aside from the initial couple in the park at the opening of the ballet, this Act Two pas de deux is the first real duet, the first chance that the protagonists have to dance together. Characterized by crossed limbs –arms crossed in partnered promenades, lots of over/under crossing of limbs – the brief dance symbolizes the lovers’ challenging position. Lines (of communication) are literally crossed; Sofia and Alexander don’t speak the same language, so they find a common tongue in gesture and movement. This point isn’t denoted in the program however, and may pass unnoticed by most spectators. Both Golub and Lobukhin executed the intricate maneuvers here admirably. The motion flowed smoothly, so much so that particular step sequences didn’t necessarily stand out.

The last scene shifts to the soccer match – which turns musically into one of Shostakovich’s impressive, impending marches. Here is a brief look at some of the most interesting choreography of the evening. Without a soccer ball present, the soccer players perform all manner of kick, jump or tour while retaining a sportive look. However, by the time the curtain falls, the players are no longer dancing but marching in icy salute, staring across the stage at each other, two opposing teams walking in tandem to a bone-chilling beat.

It becomes clear at this point that the ballet is based on the German-Russian opposition during World War Two. The allusions are plentiful. (For one, “Heinrich”, “Sofia” and “von Klein” are all German names). On the heels of “Leningrad Symphony,” which is being danced more frequently this year as part of the Celebration of Shostakovich and which also depicts this antagonistic relationship, this point is risking dilution for its widespread nature.

Act Three opens with Madame Sofia again in the hospital, semi conscious. She recalls the wartime horrors in another flashback. Young Sofia/Golub reappears, and Heinrich comes to offer her a chance at freedom. She refuses to go without the children she is caring for. Heinrich hits her, and Mr. Von Klein diverts the children from a man fallen dead nearby. According to the libretto, everyone onstage is apparently imprisoned, although the scene is still the stadium park, and there are no balls, chains or walls to speak of. The libretto explains that Mr. von Klein tries to distract the children but his imprisonment has affected his reason and he dies suddenly.

A group of prisoners in grey loose-fitted pants, shirts and caps lines up downstage. To a repetitive drum chord, they fall, as if shot, one by one. As this happens Vladimir extricates Alexander from the lineup. Together they try to escape but Vladimir is shot in the process. Vladimir grabs Alexander and kisses him on the lips before falling limp in his arms.

Alexander performs a solo dance, half in disgust at the mouth-to-mouth contact, and half in confusion over what it all means. The scene reverts back to Old Sophia in the hospital, and, as the libretto states, “in the course of a few minutes they once again live decades of hopes and despair – their happy youthful dream of a ‘golden age’.” This closes Act Three.

For this performance, the entire cast came out on stage and bowed at this point. The curtain went down twice, and then rose again to and empty stage save for a simple photograph of the young Shostakovich on the back screen. The audience was beginning to depart when Sokhiev began to conduct the final part of the powerful score to this backdrop. This last section imposed the idea that the ballet was a dedication to Shostakovich’s talents and memories, and perhaps not intended to be considered otherwise. It was a strange, or at least unexpected epilogue to the new work.

Needless to say, the libretto is complex. This “The Golden Age”, as with Grigorovich’s version, is encumbered by the fact that the onstage action is at once both so plentiful, but also does not, can not possibly depict all of its nuances, leaving much for the audience to discover or understand for itself.

For example, what must have been the first onstage male-to-male kiss at the Mariinsky took place between Baimuradov and Lobukhin in the ballet’s final Act, as stated above. This gesture expresses the fact that Vladimir was secretly in love with Alexander, hiding his attraction due to his job and to the unacceptability of homosexuality in the Soviet Union. But this kiss wasn’t announced in the program – thus no one could have anticipated it -- and during the premiere the audience showed no visible or audible reaction to the kiss. One wonders if it went unnoticed.

It should be noted that following the first of two intermissions, approximately one fifth of the audience had left the hall. In some ways this is not surprising given the non-balletic nature of the first act. Those who left guessed correctly that the performance would be consistent in maintaining a higher percentage of pantomime to dance throughout. Additionally, as often occurs at a premiere, the audience seemed unsure at which musical interludes to applaud, so it was difficult to judge public reaction based purely on applause feedback.

Unfortunately also, at times the clever inventiveness that permeated Gelber’s first ballet, “The Overcoat” here gets buried in music, costumes, or staging. Having watched some “Golden Age” rehearsals before the premiere, little gems like Andrei Ivanov’s mechanical doll solo prior to his death seem lost the hubbub of onstage commotion and bodies (several of the young children were standing between him and the audience, so viewing was a challenge). Other details like the interaction of the young lovers in Act One, where she yanks him repeatedly into position, directing the dance in true feministic Y2K style – or the stadium cleaner during the Act Two secret meeting pas de deux – or the fact that the 1930s society followed etiquette, gentleman offered their arms, ladies went first -- were these points noticeable to the rest of the audience? Doubts remain.

The strength of “Golden Age” lies in its theatricality, its novelty, and the fact that this is the first full-length, modern production of the Mariinsky since “The Magic Nut”. But one won’t find displays of balletic virtuosity here. The short dancing sequences are permeated with short --and long-- acting ones. There is much gesture and nuance. “Golden Age” tests the dancers’ acting mettle, staying power, and the theatre’s ability to juggle massive sets, computerized projection, and multiple scene changes. Therein lies its attraction.
If work such as Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” is on the cutting edge of contemporary ballet, then “The Golden Age” a la Mariinsky is of the arriere-garde mode, presenting the past to us from a present day, perspective. The feel of “retro” permeates the work, down to the lighting design by Gleb Filshtinsky, which has the dim look of modern day dramatic theatre, with abundant use of fluorescents and shadows rather than the brightness one would find in Act Three of “The Sleeping Beauty” or “Don Quixote”.

Costuming details such as the purple sash around Komleva’s neck, and matching the purple tie on Berezhnoi are also strong points. The scenography too is interesting. Sets were sparse but mobile, including stadium stands that glide on and offstage. All of this sets the tone and points the viewer in the right direction. It’s not grand ballet. But it is theatre.

Konstantin Uchitel, the ballet’s librettist, authored a lengthy explanation in the program explaining that, “this is of course, a story not just about soccer and sport in general. Like almost any story, it is about love, the present and the past, youth and old age, war and peace. And it is also about memory, those priceless fragments than can give sense to life in times when it is drowning in the amorphousness of the absurd.”

Although war itself is horrific, the element of the absurd seemed difficult to directly pinpoint, but nonetheless this production achieves its goal in presenting the other elements that Uchitel delineates. Similarities to both the original and to Grigorovich’s version also remain: the musical score, save for a few omissions, is unaltered. There is still a soccer team, a pair of lovers, a nightclub, and the time is still 1930. The differences, as already suggested, are numerous. The theme of photographs, memories, war, cultural differences, and the challenges posed to relationships over time and in times of war are emphasized here.

Uchitel also notes that the theme in Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was written before the war. Along with other examples, he suggests that part of Shostakovich’s talent lie in the gift of prophesy through a musical medium. He also comments on the original ballet’s title, “The characters in the ballet of the 1930s look forward to a glittering future, they believe it will come to be. They are not alone. The west believes it will soon be free of the Great Depression…One sixth of the world striving towards industrialization believes it will soon and unequivocally conquer all. Shostakovich himself…doubtless shared the mood. They didn’t know what this golden age would be. Because of that, specifically because of that, they could be happy. Back then.”

That specific idea of a “golden age” thus holds a tragic note. This longed-for utopia either doesn’t exist or cannot exist. In the case of Alexander and Sophia, separated by 70 years of time, an international war and cultural differences, it is only just before death that they find each other again. Perhaps therein lies the absurdity of which Uchitel speaks: the unfairness of circumstance and the inability to control our Fate. The bittersweetness of holding onto something valuable for only a few final fleeting moments.

It is somewhat disappointing that this long advertised grand ballet of the Mariinsky is in fact not much of a ballet at all. One might categorize “The Golden Age” as a dance drama, for it has elements of movement, some brief snippets of ballet, and plenty of dramatic action and pantomime throughout. On the heels of “The Magic Nut”, the company’s other recent but clearly non-balletic production, it seems audiences must continue to wait for a full-length real ballet at the Mariinsky. What “Golden Age”’s fate will be as far as the company repertoire is concerned will no doubt be determined shortly. In the meantime, the Mariinsky Theatre’s first, present day, full-length pantomime-drama “ballet” to Shostakovich’s classical score deserves at least one viewing.

A bit of history

This is the first of three ballets Shostakovich composed for the Leningrad State Academic Theatre in late 1929. The other two, “Bolt” (1931) and the “Bright Stream” (1934-35) followed, in between compositions for movie and theatrical productions. The program notes that Golden Age’s initial debut was successful, and a note from Shostakovich to Zakhar Liobinski is excerpted,

“Dear Zakhar Isaakovich, The day before yesterday we held the premiere of ‘Golden Age’…in short, the performance was a triumph. All of its creators had great success…Most important is that yesterday, and the day before, the public appreciated our work. The performance was so successful that on November 6 they will perform it again at an awards ceremony for the Leningrad Council. The second and third acts had greater success. The first for some reason didn’t quite work. I believe this is due to a few perfect dance numbers. But generally, come and see for yourself.”

Shostakovich’s “Golden Age” lasted for 19 performances. After the Leningrad premiere it was performed in Kiev and then in Odessa. But following that it was criticized severely in the papers, from the libretto to the dancing, down to its very title. It lasted in the repertoire until the end of 1931, just one season. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Yuri Grigorovich recreated the ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre, performing it on international stages.

Author:  jpc [ Sun Jul 02, 2006 5:44 am ]
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Thank you, Catherine, for your thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the Golden Age.

I look forward to seeing it in late July in London.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Jul 02, 2006 6:14 am ]
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You're most welcome jpc. I'll be interested in what others who see it in London have to say, and what they think of it. So far i haven't seen any Russian newspaper reviews... if/when I do, I'll let you know.

Author:  Buddy [ Sun Jul 02, 2006 12:45 pm ]
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Thank you so much for this very fine review. I have read it once and will return to it again to read it more carefully for sure. You get "The Dostoevsky Medal Of Honor" for this monumental effort.

A couple questions come to mind immediately, both maybe leading more to conjecture than anything else.

Since you watched some of the rehearsals, what exactly was Noah Gelber's input in your mind? What do think his future will be?

In the Mariinsky's apparent effort to have a modern impact, how well do you think that they are doing? What would you predict for the future of this direction? Is "The Golden Age" the direction to be going in? Would you sugest the best way for the Mariinsky to handle it's performing future?

If I can offer some quick opinions.

1) I would be quite happy if the Mariinsky primarily just performed "Swan Lake", "Giselle", etc. This is an historic and "Timeless Treasure" that they have in their trust, in my mind.

2) I personally feel that including an apparently extremely talented Modern "Choreographer" (Remembering that this is one the best "Dance" companies "Ever") like Noah Gelber is a very good idea. It is a matter of getting the "Big Picture" together as to exactly what really has meaning and impact these days. Based on Noah Gelber's "The Overcoat" the "Ability" is certainly at the Mariinsky's doorstep. The question is how best to channel all the amazing talent that resides today at the Mariinsky.

It does occur to me that "The Overcoat", might "Already" have made the 'significant' "Modern" statement that the Mariinsky seems to be looking for. I also can forsee great possiblities for the future.

Again thank you for your wonderful insights and presentations. The actual performances sometimes last only an hour or two. A great artist's appearance may only be for a few minutes. You help to keep all of this alive in our minds well into the future. I would very much look forward to the possibility and the pleasure of meeting you the next time that I am in St. Petersburg.

Very best wishes, Buddy

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Mon Jul 03, 2006 5:14 am ]
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Hi Buddy,

Thank you for the thought-provoking post and compliments. Likewise it would be a pleasure to meet you the next time you're in St. Petersburg.

You pose some interesting questions for which I'd be happy to offer my input.

I think there is a challenge that the directorship of the Mariinsky Theatre is facing today. They feel pressured to "Keep Up With" the Joneses, ie, all of the western companies that perform modern works. There have been plenty of reviews in Western press pegging the Kirov, the Perm or the Bolshoi (although more rarely the latter) as frozen in the past, and this isn't a description anyone appreciates, much less Russians, who are quite sensitive to the country's need to make up for years of communism, even in the realm of art.

As an example, I remember reviewing the Perm Ballet in 2003 on their California visit. They performed "Sleeping Beauty". I thought it was spectacular (i believe it was the Sergeyev version but don't have my notes here). The local papers trashed it, other acquaintances who attended thought it was 'old' -- too long, too boring etc. I was surprised, because none of the local companies could even hold a candle to the dancing I saw that night. At the risk of offending a few readers, I will venture out on a limb and say that even San Francisco Ballet IMHO doesn't currently have what it takes to put on a full length Beauty at this point and have dancers excelling in the numerous classical roles presented in that ballet as they do here. Balanchine, yes. But classical ballet, stalwart style? But I digress perhaps into journalistic politics which no one admits exists... The point is, the Kirov has certain strengths that no American company has. Those strengths (as you, Buddy, I am sure are well aware already) lie in its classical heritage.

I believe it is Makhar Vasiev's goal to not have this theatre become a stronghold for museum-pieces. (in not so many words he's said so, and not only to me) He wants the company to be world class and their understanding of world class (and this is key) includes doing modern works as well. This is why I believe they have spent so much time, energy and funding on Forsythe works (and prior to that, acquiring Balanchine). As one of the recent reviewers pointed out, they brought Forsythe to Kennedy Center along with Giselle to show that they could do 'both old and new' --to show that in addition to performing the classics like no one else, that they can master 21st centery ballet/dance forms as well.

Whether they master it, how they master it, if it is indeed mastered, that's another question.

Personally I tend to agree with you. I would be happy to have them perform the classics, which I do believe they do better than anyone else, and leave it at that. However, year after year (and I can attest to this, having lived here for over two years now), one does begin to yearn for something fresh and new. You can only see so many "Swan Lakes", especially by the same ballerina ...

Additionally, precisely due to the unbelievably strong classical base this company has, moreso than American companies, I think that puts them in a better position to carry off modern works appropriately. I say this because Vaganova schooling presents a uniform look, meaning that the dancers stepping into Forsythe or some other new choreography will at least look like they're all from the same company when the production hits the stage. No, they don't have, for example, an innate sense for the 'hips forward' positioning and off-balance poses of Balanchine. But they can be taught. If nothing else, they are trained to absorb, repeat and deliver what they're taught.

So, I think there *is* a place for contemporary works in the Kirov repertoire .. the question is which works, and how often are they going to be performed.

Taking that further then, this question of "which works" is also sensitive. Balanchine? Forsythe? Pina Bausch? At what point along the ballet-modern spectrum do they stop, or should they? Ultimately it is the management's decision which is then influenced by funding, access and image. Image being probably the biggest one on the list.

I have the distinct impression that they are searching, almost in the dark, about what will peg them 'world-class' as well as 'cutting edge' and keep them there. And that they themselves aren't sure what the magic combination is.

As far as Noah Gelber is concerned, I think Overcoat was a showcase for his talents. It was a great ballet, and hopefully will stay in the repertoire. In all honesty, Golden Age isn't in that category. I'm not sure why really. Perhaps simply the immense size (people involved and length of score) of Golden Age didnt allow Gelber to display those same talents. He is young, he is a choreographer only "just become" (as of January 2006) and has himself mentioned that choreography isn't his main interest or goal. Regardless, and even if it is his main interest, I think the Mariinsky needs to have a broader range than focusing on one choreographer or type of "modern" ballet. They focus a lot on Forsythe. But, for example, Ratmansky's "Cinderella" will be danced this Wednesday night, for the first time in over one year. That is a contemporary ballet, a recent, modern work, the choreography is stunning, and the audience loves it. So why isn't it performed more often? (Perhaps because it is Ratmansky's, I honestly dont know the reason). They had, at one point, a list of Neuemeier ballets as well. Where are those and why aren't they performed?

That said, I do feel strongly that the Mariinsky should encourage and use Russian contemporary choreographers for these forays into modern, if you will, dance. They are upholding Russian classical traditions, so it would make sense for them to cultivate local Russian contemporary choreographers as well. The second they do this, and succeed at it, is the second they will make a giant leap forward, in my opinion. And despite common belief, enough exist. In fact you only need one, and they do have one who I think they should risk working with more. Alexei Miroshnichenko set pieces for New York City Ballet (I think for their Diamond Project) and recently in Brussels. His talents are well established simply looking at who he has worked with. It is beyond me why the company won't use him, but they don't. My personal take on it: I think they're afraid of taking responsibility, quite frankly...if one of "their own" fails, then they have, in a sense failed. And they're quite afraid of investing in that. Whereas, if they keep using foreign choreographers, the responsibility for failure lies elsewhere.

They hired Gelber, and currently Pandoursky is working on yet another piece with the company. Both are non-Russians. Pandoursky's "Magic Nut" is a theatre entertainment for children, at best. Her choreography is modern but doesnt necessarily catch the eye, it is all about the strange score (electronic music) and wild oversized costumes. And yet they keep billing it, and they also invited her back to create another ballet. Why? Politics? Maybe. Or, less risk.

Incidentally, those involved in Golden Age were not satisfied with the premiere. It is under discussion now, but Mr. Gelber may be rechoreographing the bulk of the ballet in the next three weeks before it hits London.

So there you have my thoughts. Interested to hear what you think.


Author:  ksneds [ Mon Jul 03, 2006 7:25 am ]
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Miroshnichenko, to my knowledge, has only participated in the NY Choreographic Institute (twice), which uses dancers from SAB and NYCB. NYCI performances are closed to the public, so I've never seen or heard anything about the ballets.

I would also point out that when considering whether a company should do 'only the classics', one must consider the dancers. It's my experience that dancers like variation in the ballets and types of ballets that are danced, both because it gets tedious to do the same (or same kind of) thing over and over, and also because not every dancer excels or is made for roles in every ballet. Dancers like to be choreographed on, to try new things, instead of spending their entire careers dancing roles that someone else has created. And dancers who may never get past the corps in a classic, may be just the thing for a big role in Balanchine or Forsythe.

And a company needs to keep its dancers on their toes - literally and figuratively - because the chance to try something new and different can inspire dancers, teach them something more about their technique and inspire them to keep learning. They could easily decide that Balanchine is not for them, but that might also help them learn why the classics are for them.

I think if the Kirov were to only do the classics, one would perhaps see a lot more dancers leaving for companies outside Russia where they could experience other choreographers and ballets. The Kirov has great prestige and a fabulous classical repertory to reccomend it, but that's not always enough to keep the younger dancers from being enticed by the higher salaries and better living conditions elsewhere. Especially in such a large company where dancers can intentionally or unintentionally get overlooked.

Finally, I would disagree that companies like San Francisco Ballet don't have what it takes to do ballets like "Sleeping Beauty". But all the same I wouldn't go to SFB expecting to see a "Sleeping Beauty" such as the Kirov would perform. Perhaps the difference is that the Kirov, and a few of the companies in Europe, are the ones that can truely put on a classical full-length ballet. And I'd suggest that what SFB, NYCB, PNB and even ABT and the Royal Ballet perform are neo-classical full-lengths. They're a step away from the classical full-lengths in that they draw on the combined talents of dancers who may have a wide range of schooling, and perhaps focus less on totally synchronization (i.e. lines of swans) and deep emotional interpretation, and more on individualism and dynamic dancing. No less valid interpretations, but they shouldn't be judged in direct comparison to the classics.

Perhaps the key is not to compare companies as a whole, but to appreciate the talents of each. I'd go to the RDB to see Bournonville, Royal Ballet to see Manon, NYCB to see Balanchine, Kirov to see the real classics etc.


Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:05 pm ]
Post subject: 

Ah - well if Miroschnichenko's performances were closed to the public that makes sense why he is so little known/appreciated> He truly hasn't had the exposure that (I think) he deserves. Hopefully it will come with time.

Kate, you actually underlined my point exactly: one would not choose SFB (or a given American company, fill in the blank as you will) to see something like Sleeping Beauty, at least not when you know you can see the classical standard of that ballet at the Kirov. But then...that implies that different (ie lower) standards should be applied to other companies when, for example, one of them mounts a new version of "Swan Lake" or another classic. How can one give rave reviews, for example, to SFB or ABT's latest remake of "Swan Lake", and trash the Kirov's Beauty (this is just an example), when, in theory, that's the exact opposite of reality?
Those who have seen the Kirov know what it *should* look like. Part of classical standard (and I'm speaking of hard core classicism) is not allowing that individuality (difference of line and technique among troupe members) to permeate a performance. This is what separates the Kirov, as you point out, from American companies.

I am all for not comparing companies either -- but the American press does so constantly and continuously, often to the detriment of the Kirov or whoever the "foreigner" is. And I think that's wrong. If you're an unknowledgeable ballet-goer and you read local SF papers (I can give this example bc I'm an SF native), you would think that SFB is the ONLY company that can dance classical ballet in the world. (This can most likely be applied to other cities where they've toured as well) There is a trend to support the local company, whereever that may be, to the detriment of touring visitors *regardless* of who is objectively performing better. And I take grave exception to this.

I also agree with your statement that there are certain companies who should be valued for their specific strengths (MacMillan at the Royal for example). RDB has and should have the right to set and maintain the standard for Bournonville across the world -- that style was born there, they are keeping it alive, they know it best. Likewise with Petipa ballets, the Kirov is their original home and I think they should be appreciated for it.

Basically, I think we agree :-).

Author:  Buddy [ Mon Jul 03, 2006 7:42 pm ]
Post subject: 

Catherine and ksneds,

I think some very good points have been made. Personally I would like to take some time to appreciate and think more about all that has been offered here.

Getting back to "The Golden Age" itself for a moment.

I mentioned to my figure skating instructor (from the Ukraine) that a performance by one of the best classical dance companies in the world was only about 1/10 dancing, the rest being mime, etc. She replied that maybe these are exactly the right type of performers to be attempting something like this. Also she reminded me that pantomime-mime and nonverbal expression are very important elements in dance.

Catherine I did reread your very fine review.

There are two things that I might have not noticed in the first reading.

1) From your description and the 'way' you described it, "The Golden Age" seems like a very 'sincere' and 'heart-felt' effort.

2) It seems like a very impressive accomplishment, being a three-and-three-quarter hour long performance, that was created in only 6 to 8 weeks!

jpc, I hope that you enjoy seeing it and the other wonderful perfomances that you will be viewing in London this summer.

I do wish "The Golden Age" success and look forward to seeing it myself.

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