Premiere: “Suspended Aria”
St. Petersburg, Russia
7 July 2007
By Catherine Pawlick
Canadian Peter Quanz’s new ballet for the Mariinsky Theatre, “Suspended Aria” premiered to Valery Gergiev’s baton as part of the White Nights Festival on July 7, followed by Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments” and “La Valse”, marking Quanz as a talented young choreographer with classical tendencies and a talent for ensemble work.
“Suspended Aria” – the name is taken from Stravinsky’s own description of the second movement of his Symphony in C, upon which the ballet is set – is a one-act ballet that appears Balanchinean in both form and function, but is more fluid than some of Mr. B’s more angular works. In contrast, for example, to the geometrical movements in the “Four Temperaments” that followed, “Aria” offers more fluid port de bras and unique step combinations. But like Balanchine, Quanz uses quick changes of tempo, fast arms that pass through classical positions, hips thrust forward at times, and a female as the central character.
Tidy costumes by New York costume designer Holly Hynes clothe the dancers in a color-coded fashion: a deep purple short-skirted leotard for the leading lady, pale purple for the corps, and pale yellow costumes for the set of four demi-soloist couples. Misha Barkhin’s simple sets – grey boards set in the wings, and a platform upstage implying a rocky grey terrain -- adapt beautifully to at least four major lighting changes in the course of the piece.
The ballet’s theme is simple. A woman dances with three different male partners, each time expressing a different relationship. As Quanz explained in an interview (see interview), Stravinsky had lost his mother, sister, and wife in the span of six months to tuberculosis. Quanz takes the theme of loss and shifts it, at least for the first three quarters of the ballet, to playfulness, romance, and companionship, respectively.
Alongside two rows of the corps de ballet women, Alexander Sergeev entered first with a set of slow chainé turns down center stage, and an erect pirouette finished in plié ecarté. Sergeev’s steps as the first suitor are far from con brio, although Quanz inserts a charming jeté battu combination with arms that look as if they are softly parting a cloud above. The ladies echo Sergeev’s steps, before he continues into a manège of slicing split jetés. The corps uses a particular step to cross the stage and form a single line at stage left: a 4th arabesque hop in plié, followed by a temps de flêche (precipité) before the ballerina enters.
That ballerina, Viktoria Tereshkina, launched herself onstage like a lightening bolt. In a powerful pas de chat, her front leg darted out below her like a sharpened arrow. Following some brisk footwork she danced a brief pas de deux with Sergeev. The interplay of the dancers’ seemed innocent and complementary, as if they were going for a romp in the park. Here, arms extended in second with flexed palms gave a modern twist to classical arabesques. The demi-soloists in yellow then entered and echoed the main couple’s steps, after which four men in pale purple brought Sergeev back onstage.
While Quanz’s steps are open to interpretation, the nature of the first relationship ends with Tereshkina’s insistent port de bras and Sergeev’s departure from the stage. Were one to define it, undeveloped or young love might have been the most apt descriptor for the first relationship, for as Sergeev ran into the wing, Tereshkina jumped into Ilya Kuznetsov’s arms, ending in a fetal position on his knee. Thus begins relationship number two.
Kuznetsov’s initial arm gesture – one of comfort, enclosing Tereshkina in his embrace – suggested the beginnings of romantic love begun to the violin theme of the second movement, the aria. This duet was less playful, more somber, almost a song of sadness between two lovers. Tereshkina’s short solo in this section emphasized Quanz’s innately musical choreography. At more than one point singular notes were accented with isolated foot (or arm or head) movements; high speed brisé voles were followed by piqué turns in which the second leg paused before reaching retiré passé. One attractive movement was done as Kuznetsov partnered Tereshkina in a fouetté to arabesque, dragging her upstage. This relationship was the first clear hint at undesired loss, for Kuznetsov waltzed off into the wing, leaving Tereshkina reaching after him.
Anton Pimenov entered the stage with a determined, high-energy sauté. After a series of pirouettes from fourth, he too was joined by Tereshkina, defining the third relationship in the ballet. The tempo here increased slightly, the steps and partner work becoming more intricate. The couple’s interaction was bright, smiles spread wide on both faces as Pimenov threw her high into the air in one entrance. The corps de ballet steps shifted to tombés emphasizing a drum beat, reminiscent of “Rubies” or even “Apollo”. But Pimenov exited of his own accord, and Tereshkina ran off in the opposite direction.
Set to dim lighting and melancholic horns, four yellow couples opened the final movement before the corps entered. Then each male lead danced in between rows of men and women that shifted from stage left to right, from upstage to downstage. It was as if these walls limited the leading dancers’ movements, their space diminishing even as they passed through it.
In the final moments of the ballet, the ballerina holds an arabesque plié, her arms in second, palms flexed as the entire ensemble of soloists and demi-soloists walks off upstage. Alone with her three suitors, the ballerina reaches towards each of them separately as they climb the upstage platform, their backs to the audience, arms out and palms flexed. She continues to move as the curtain closes.
For its novelty and, more importantly, for its demonstration of contemporary classical work, Quanz’s “Aria” is a great achievement. The corps de ballet executed his intricate steps with utmost clarity, resulting in a neat precision that lent a polished look to the work. Quanz’ casting choices were also faultless. Tereshkina once again proved herself mistress of the dance. We see her as Quanz described: emancipated, exploring three different relationships and withstanding the shifts and differences within each. Sergeev, Kuznetsov, and Pimenov, each left distinct impressions. “Aria” too has left its stamp as a ballet deserving repeat performances by the Mariinsky dancers, and Quanz has much to be proud of.