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Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Jan 17, 2015 1:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Thursday, January 15, 2015 performance of "Swan Lake" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sat Jan 17, 2015 1:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

The Mariinsky Ballet
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New York

January 15, 16, 2015
“Swan Lake”

-- by Jerry Hochman

The Mariinsky Ballet opened a ten performance engagement at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with two of five performances of "Swan Lake." Simply put, this 1950 production, with revised choreography and staging by Konstantin Sergeyev, should not be missed even if it means trekking to Brooklyn on a frigid winter night.

I’ll address the generally stellar performances, particularly by the miraculous Ulyana Lopatkina, shortly. Initially, however, I feel compelled to first discuss the production as a whole.

To put my observations in context, I am not a stickler for ‘authenticity’. Unless I’m promised an accurate museum quality reproduction of the 1895 version choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, my preference for “Swan Lake,” as well as other classical ballets, is that the productions breathe fresh air. Consequently, I embrace productions that modify the original to a greater or lesser extent, and at times find productions that attempt historical accuracy often to be needlessly artificial-looking and arthritic. It’s one reason why, for example, notwithstanding what some consider to be its massacre of the ballet’s final act, I consider Kevin McKenzie’s version for American Ballet Theater to be a wonderful production, one that adds an essential contemporary sensibility to the classic framework.

Given this prejudice, finding this Mariinsky production to be one of the better ones I’ve seen speaks volumes.

Even in the best of productions, the first scene, Prince Siegfried’s birthday party, often looks tedious, with court dances that are stodgy and lifeless, and/or with artificial stylistic restrictions and stiff, uniform poses that looked starched and mechanical, not in any way resembling the way the ‘real’ people who are supposed to populate this scene would interact. In this version, however, and even though the scene is limited to the members of the court (there are no separate ‘classes’ of nobles and townies – local peasants who tend to vary the visual and emotional mood), the dances are celebratory and stage-spanning rather than perfunctory, with little of the stiff stylization that mars other versions of this scene. And although I don’t particularly like replacing ‘Benno’ with the ‘Jester’ because I often find the latter character to be needlessly intrusive and annoying, here the Jester is not just a hyperactive acrobat off his meds – he’s somewhat of a confidante as well as an entertainer, and he has human feelings and failings (his infatuation for one of the prince’s ballerina friends who dances in the pas de trois – and who herself is given distinct character as an endearing sweetheart – is a particularly nice, somewhat commedia dell’arte –like, touch).

And it gets better from there. The White Acts are fabulous. Act I, Scene 2, though essentially similar to other classic versions, features corps patterning that looks more varied and interesting than I’ve seen in other productions. While not losing any sense of Romantic style, the patterns are not limited to lines and soft, rounded arcs. I particularly liked when the Big Swans appear for their variations from the four corners of the stage, rather than migrating downstage like everyone else.

When I first started attending ballet, I found Act III to be particularly difficult to get through. Not in this version – the choreography makes narrative sense, does not excessively ‘milk’ the style or the action, and makes stunning, unforgettable visual statements. The brief encounter between Rothbart and Odette in which he’s obviously reveling in his conquest, during which he swings her around in a sort of death spiral, is fantastic, as is the point when Siegfried cradles the near dead Odette in his arms. This version’s Act II is less brilliant to me, but that’s more a function of the White Acts looking so good, and of ABT’s Act II being so thrillingly envisioned and executed. But even here, the story is told coherently, and the character dances (here introduced by a lethal, skeletal-looking incarnation of Rothbart) vary not only by musical and ethnic style, but by form – it’s not all ‘lead couple stage center surrounded by supporting pairs’. As a result, as in the White Acts, the dancing overall is much more passionate and more compelling to watch.

This is not to say that I don't have quibbles with the production. Most importantly, in Scene 2, I miss the mime and the choreographic shading that tells the story and sets the mood, which I’ll discuss further below. And there’s a point in time early in the scene where Odette runs onstage to protect her fellow swans. ‘Don’t hurt them, o great prince,’ she might be saying, ‘they’re human too’. But here, there’s no perceived threat to protect them from. Siegfried had abandoned his cross-bow earlier, and at this point in the production looks friendly and harmless. It makes no sense. And I personally prefer to see a more exciting entrance from Odette than the walk-on here, and visualization of the queen that makes sense (she looks too young, with the medieval version of Big Hair, and too little attention to formality). Finally, of course, there’s the decision, politically correct in the Soviet Union of 1950, to make the end a happy one because there’s no ‘heaven’ to which the dead Odette, with or without Siegfried, can ascend. So they live happily ever after. Fine. But the ‘fight’ during which Rothbart is vanquished consists of one pass during which Siegfried rips off the monster’s wing (in this version, Rothbart is a bird – part sleek pterodactyl, part vulture) as if it were a feathery epaulet attached by Velcro. It’s just silly. Even the program notes seem to be embarrassed by it.

But in the overall scheme of things, these criticisms hardly matter. This is a superb production, aided in no small part by the tasteful and unobtrusive set design by Igor Ivanov.

And as executed by the impeccable Mariinsky corps, the Romantic style is presented like perfectly cut facets of diamonds. The style is so ingrained that it appears as natural to these dancers as breathing. Arms and hands are perfectly placed. All the time. Legs extend uniformly. All the time. One presumes that even their hearts beat in sync. But there's no sense of regimentation, of being drilled to the point where the ballerinas look robotic. It may be stylized, but it does not look unnatural. And in those rare split seconds where a head was held at a different angle from others, it just demonstrated that the corps was made of individual humans rather than programmed machines.

The lead performances of Odette/Odile, dazzling though both were, illustrate why it is critical to be able to compare one with another.

On Thursday, Viktoria Tereshkina appeared to be as technically outstanding as a ballerina dancing "Swan Lake" can be. While there were minor imperfections which stood out when they occurred because everything else was flawless, they were so rare, and so insignificant in the overall scheme of things, that they’re easily overlooked. Every foot placement, every port de bras, every turn - which were miracles themselves for their placement, alignment (assisted or unassisted), and above all for their rotational speed), was on the mark. I've previously written that the best Odette I've seen was Natalia Makarova. Their bodies are similar, and technically, watching Ms. Tereshkina, I saw Makarova.

But ballet theater in general, and Odette/Odile in particular, requires something more than technique – it requires a sense that the character portrayed is more than only a compilation of perfectly executed steps. With Ms. Tereshkina I felt little. Her Odette was completely devoid of any level of passion or pathos. Granted that the absence of mime in this version limits the ballerina’s ability to convey emotion. And granted also that the perceived level of emotion can be a product of coaching, and that it also can be overdone to the point where the ballerina is hitting the audience over the head with an anvil. Too much pathos is simply pathetic. A balance is required. Finally, there’s also a much more subjective ‘like’ (‘warmth’) factor. Some dancers, by the nature of their stage personalities, are able to make an audience feel what they’re feeling; they pierce the proscenium, and bring an audience in. In this respect, and as technically precise as she was, Ms. Tereshkina was no Makarova. She was emotionally flat, and cold as ice. I was seated toward the front of the orchestra, and had a clear, close-up view. In the White Acts, her face was blank and stoic throughout, as if she was sucking a lemon. She was showing no feeling, and consequently, as brilliant as her dancing was, I felt nothing.

Act II was yet more unfortunate. I’ve written previously that for me, the role of Odile is critical; if it doesn’t work, no matter who great the portrayal of Odette may be, the ballet as a whole doesn’t work. And in order for the role of Odile to work, the sexual component must be paramount: she has to convincingly seduce Siegfried. Here, Ms. Tereshkina smiled, and sneered, and danced the choreography superbly. But the irresistible force was lacking. Worse, seemingly at every choreographic punctuation point that was the culmination of a flourishing turn, she’d open her mouth in a small circle, seemingly saying ‘hey handsome and you in the audience, look at what I just did’. That’s not seduction.

With Ms. Lopatkina, there was technical prowess, but there also was character. Whether because of age or stylistic preference, Ms. Lopatkina didn’t move with the same quicksilver flourish that Ms. Tereshkina did. In particular, her turns weren’t as fast and not nearly as spectacular looking. But at times Ms. Tereshkina looked as if she were trying to force as many turns into one musical phrase as she could – Ms. Lopatkina, on the other hand, was languid and liquid, like a slowly uncoiling spring, ending each phrase perfectly. Perhaps a more clear example can be found in the fouettes executed during the Act II coda. Ms. Tereshkina did doubles (or more), moved at a much faster pace, and by my count completed far more than thirty two. But in squeezing out the extra turns, she lost pace with the music, and listed off center. Ms. Lopatkina moved more deliberately, never forcing any extra turn. And when doing the Act II fouettes, she did singles throughout, but executed superbly and never looked like she was ‘pushing’. It may not have looked as exciting, but it was more stylistically complete. And within the confines of this choreography, she looked passionate. She wasn’t stoic; she nuzzled, gazed hopefully and lovingly (and, in Act III, forgivingly), and added a shiver of emotion.

And then there was Ms. Lopatkina’s Odile. She didn’t just smile occasionally, she entranced. She didn’t sneer, she enticed. She acted her character with her eyes as well as her lips. And she knew that to be a successful Odile, she needed not only to be irresistible to Siegfried – she had to seduce the audience too. And she did. By making the seduction convincing, and making the contrast between Odette and Odile so clear, Ms. Lopatkina took her performance to a higher and more compelling level.

As their respective Siegfrieds, Vladimir Shklyarov and Yevgeny Ivanchenko both executed their roles well, and their partnering was commendable. There is less room in this production than others for character embellishment for Siegfried, and both dancers responded to events in identical ways. But Mr. Shklyarov has a particularly outstanding ballon, and explosive leaps. Though shorter in stature, he looks more princely, and he carries himself more fluidly, with less upper body stiffness, than Mr. Ivanchenko.

In other featured roles, Vladislav Shumakov and Yaroslav Baybordin were exciting, unflappable Jesters, with Mr. Shumakov being somewhat more hyperactive and intrusive, and Mr. Baybordin somewhat more controlled. But both brought the house down with their acrobatics (which both pushed a bit too far – but in that role doing so is appropriate). As Rothbart, Andrei Yermakov on Thursday and Yuri Smekalov last night were both powerful and vicious.

The pas de trois was danced by Yana Selina, Nadezhda Batoeva, and Filipp Stepin at the opening, and by Yekaterina Ivannikova, Anastasia Nikitina, and Xander Parrish on Friday. In this production (at least based on these two performances), the women in the pas de deux have distinct personalities. Ms. Selina and Ms. Ivannikova appear taller, with broad sunshine smiles and broad stage personas to match. Ms. Batoeva and Ms. Nikitina played the shorter, sweeter ballerinas each night – in this version, they’re the ones the Jester (and probably many in the audience) has a crush on. Both are interesting dancers to watch. Ms. Batoeva came across as exceptionally engaging. (She’s scheduled to dance the lead in “Cinderella” on the 20th.) Unfortunately, Ms. Nikitina, who was dancing with particular intensity and luminescence, took a hard fall midway through the pas de trois, quickly removed herself from the stage and did not return (the pas de trois was completed as a pas de deux, and Ms. Ivannikova, Mr. Parrish and Mr. Baybordin covered so skillfully that her absence did not impact the rest of the ballet). Ms. Batoeva replaced Ms. Nikitina as one of ‘Two Swans’ later in the program.

Of the character dances, I found the performances of Anna Lavrinenko and Alexey Nedviga in the Neapolitan Dance, and Olga Belik and Boris Zhurilov in the Hungarian Dance, to be particularly commendable. Anastasia Asaben, Anastasia Mikhelkina, Anastasia Sogrina, and Oxana Marchuk where the flawless Cygnets.

Finally, what made the performance perhaps as much as the dancing was the conducting by Valery Gergiev, artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theater, and the performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra. Mr. Gergiev led the dancers appropriately, and the orchestra played with the same level of precision that marked the dancing on stage.

Three more performances of “Swan Lake” are scheduled next week. Missing this production is not an option.

Author:  balletomaniac [ Mon Jan 19, 2015 10:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

The Mariinsky Ballet
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New York

January 17, 2015

-- by Jerry Hochman

Sitting through the first act of Alexei Ratmansky’s 2002 production of “Cinderella,” which had the first of three scheduled performances Saturday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one had to wonder what could have prompted such a fiasco. Not even Diana Vishneva, I thought, could convert this sow’s ear of ballet into a reasonably serviceable handbag, much less a silk purse. Then the second act began, and it got worse. To that point, it was the Roaring Twenties meets Punk meets Gatsby meets Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever”), all as choreographed by Bob Fosse.

And then it happened. Sometime during Act II, perhaps when Ms. Vishneva first appeared in the scene, things started to make sense. Well…’make sense’ isn’t exactly the right phrase. Things started to look like there was a measure of genius behind the weirdness, and that the piece had been conceived by a mad scientist of a choreographer who perhaps had had too many strange mushrooms for breakfast – and lunch and dinner, and whose brain had been overwhelmed by outlandish, subversive ideas, all of which he threw at his staging of the beloved fairy tale to see which, if any, stuck to the wall. So maybe things didn’t make sense…maybe things just started to stick.

Whatever, suddenly this was not a revisionist Cinderella, or a Cinderella that was produced on the other side of a rabbit hole, or the anti-Ashton Cinderella, but a Cinderella that is true to the story but sees it through a prism and tells it using a different language. Sometimes, literally. And when it ended, I felt like standing and cheering that he and this marvelous cast had pulled it off – which is exactly what the full house did.

It’s certainly possible that the reason this piece finally jelled were the remarkable performances by Ms. Vishneva as Cinderella, Yekaterina Kondaurova as the Stepmother, Konstantin Zverev as the Prince, and others who I’ll mention below, and that a different cast might be unable to dig out from the ballet’s failures in Act I, which were legion. But I suspect that if this “Cinderella” is seen with an open mind, or perhaps after ingesting a few stiff drinks, it will eventually become not only comprehensible, but wonderful. And having a soft touch for a ballet love story helps.

Also, I concede that I have a prejudice (I discover more and more of them as I get older) in favor of ballets that take risks, particularly with stories that have been hashed and rehashed to the point where they all seem to blend together. So, for example, I found myself enjoying Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and grew to appreciate Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “LAC,” even though each choreographer modified the essential story and added plotlines to fit his concept. Mr. Ratmansky’s “Cinderella,” however doesn’t so much change the story as retells it a drastically different visual and choreographic way, changing the nature of some characters and discarding part of the story line in the process.

Additionally, it must be remembered that this “Cinderella” is the product of a young, relatively inexperienced choreographer, and it shows. [Indeed, the fact that Mr. Ratmansky has since choreographed other versions of the story may indicate that he’s no longer satisfied with the eccentricities that permeate this one.] It’s too full of junk, of ideas that should have been jettisoned. And there’s a lot here that reminds one of other Ratmansky pieces – for example, in terms of staging, I saw similarities to his “Nutcracker” in the opening moments, and to “The Bright Stream” later, and his combinations here look a lot like combinations of his that I’ve seen before. But if he was borrowing from himself, it was the latter works that borrowed from this one, and in any event it’s not unusual for there to be similarities in a choreographer’s work from one piece to another.

Explaining why this ballet ultimately works requires more than the usual amount of detail.

Act I, charitably, is a disaster, and only looks somewhat better knowing how the rest of it turns out. The set, designed by Ilya Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov, looks industrial and skeletal, like an old factory that was gutted to be converted into a co-op, but the owner ran out of money. The sensation is one of icy sterility, not just by a change of venue (e.g., Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake”), but by a change in visual temperature (e.g., Peter Martins’s “Swan Lake”). Nothing is remotely ‘real’, and it moves at a lightning pace, but seems to take forever.

Ms. Vishneva first appears huddled on a balcony that looks like a fire escape turned inside out (it has a mate on the other side of the stage), watching hairdressers work on her stepmother and stepsisters to prepare them for the Prince’s ball as if they were cooks preparing Christmas Eve dinner (the invitation to the ball had been previously delivered and is a ‘given’). Not unusually, Cinderella is physically and emotionally dominated by her stepmother, who’s not so much evil as concurrently manic and pixilated, reflective of the hyperactive choreography that surrounds her. In contrast, this Cinderella is in another world. There’s little interaction between her and the other characters (as if, with the benefit of hindsight, she doesn’t speak the same language) – she’s ignored more than oppressed, and she does little except dream of her dear departed mother and her intoxicated, ne’er do well father. The time could be anytime; the place anywhere.

A poor old tramp lady, heavily laden with bags of Stuff, wanders into the room (Cinderella doesn’t invite her in - either the walls were porous or they left the factory door unlocked), and Cinderella shows her some kindness, but I couldn’t tell whether she gave the old hag a coin, or just a smile. Then dance teachers arrive to teach the stepsisters, Kudishka and Kubishka, how to hip-gyrate and bump and grind like they were auditioning for the road company of “Chicago.” Cinderella is sad and dreamy (oh, for a broomstick), but the tramp returns, revealing herself as a fairy (but still looking like a bag lady).

Quicker than you can say bibbidy bobbidy boo, out pop the Four Seasons. No, not those Four Seasons. Four male dancers with body paint and weird hair (one has a multicolored mohawk; another a mop), who entertain her (accompanied by seasonally appropriate back-up dancers), and subsequently dance a waltz with Cinderella that is so underwhelming it almost disappears within the glorious Prokofiev score. Then the fairy bag lady gives Cinderella a flimsy-looking white flapper dress (ah – a hint of a time frame), and leads her to her fantastical coach. Well, not quite fantastical and not quite a coach: it’s a huge steel wheel that hangs from the factory ceiling, looking like the frame and innards of an industrial clock. Wait. It’s not a wheel that’s representative of a coach; it’s just a big clock. With no hands. Where’s Basil Twist when you need him?

As the scene ends, Cinderella looks up into the giant wheel. Or clock. Whatever. Perhaps waiting to be beamed to a different planet.

The only part of the scene that was in any way magical was the sound of the Mariinsky Orchestra, under Valery Gergiev’s superb direction. I’ve never heard the score executed so brilliantly. If you closed your eyes, you could forget the ballet.

Act II, the Ball, opens with the guests, nattily dressed in tuxedoes for the men and dresses that were long and sleek and clingy for the women. The color palette – the dresses are solid blocks of color, mostly shades of red; the tuxedos are black – is actually quite striking, and provides a dramatic visual contrast to the drab-looking set. (The costumes, brilliantly conceived here but just plain strange elsewhere, were designed by Elena Markovskaya.) Their group dance is at once refined and ‘slinky’, the women shimmy and pose; the men shoot their arms up and out ahead of them like they were well-dressed chorus boys in tuxes learning the Charleston. It looks beautiful, but it’s a mess. The sensation is one of nouveau-riche pseudo-sophistication; all attitude and no substance. And then the Prince jetes onto the dance floor in a white suit as if he’d been shot out of a cannon, preening and posing and full of himself. Jay Gatsby with ballon.

Eventually, the guests move to the stage perimeters, and Ms. Vishneva becomes the center of visual attention, alone, under that wheel/clock (which has turned on its axle and is now a flickering chandelier), in that white flapper dress, looking not at all sure how she got there.

Then the real magic happens - we begin to see a method to the madness, and the ballet finds its heart.

Cinderella and the Prince do what people who are attracted to each other are supposed to do. They introduce themselves, using a mime language that resembles no other ballet mime language. But it’s somehow clear as a bell, and these people from different worlds understand each other, and the viewer understands them. And watching this little thirty second mime exchange (exquisitely and touchingly conveyed by Ms. Vishneva and Mr. Zverev) suddenly made everything – well, almost everything – comprehensible. It’s the pivotal moment in the ballet. Cinderella and the Prince come from different cultural and choreographic worlds. To this point, the choreography looks (and is) strange because it’s supposed to be – it’s not just to show Mr. Ratmansky’s intention and ability to invent some new way to utilize ballet vocabulary. In context, it’s a different language, a cultural as well as physical language that is somewhat alien to Cinderella and that she tries to learn, just as the movement quality is somewhat alien to an audience. Whether she learns it or not, and whether the audience grows accustomed to the ballet’s choreographic face, doesn’t matter nearly as much as that through it all they communicate and break through the barriers between them. This is not just Cinderella at a ball, meeting her prince. This is a clash, and mesh, of cultures, which Mr. Ratmansky had set up in Act I. Seeing it this way, what came before makes sense (or at least, stuck), and what comes later, no matter how weird, is awesome.

Following the gentle introductory duet, the guests reappear. The Prince introduces them to Cinderella, and asks her to dance for them the way they dance, the style du jour – essentially, to speak their language. It sounds improbable and perhaps insensitive of him – but he’s taken with her, and he’s proudly showing her off to his guests as Henry Higgins might show off Eliza Doolittle. In her solo, Cinderella (who, remember, was watching as the dance teachers tried to teach her stepsisters how to dance) mimics the lessons given earlier to her stepsisters, but never quite gets it right. It’s not her language. The guests applaud her effort, but make fun of her, as if she gave it a game try but had a funny accent. But the Prince is smitten and doesn’t care what they think. He dances his solo of exuberance, flying around the stage. And then, after a brief intrusion by the Stepmother and Stepsisters, the Prince and his fair lady dance a more impassioned conclusory duet. Structurally, this is roughly equivalent to a grand pas de deux, on a grander, thematic, scale. Cinderella and the Prince dance together; she dances her solo; he dances his; and, after a brief interruption by another character’s variation, the two bring the pas de deux to its climactic finale. Seeing it unfold in front of your eyes, all in thematic context, is breathtaking.

At this point I (and from what I could tell, most of the rest of the audience) was won over. So what if we don’t see Cinderella lose her slipper, and we see her reemerging from her dream as if she’d suddenly been expelled from the twilight zone. Mr. Ratmansky’s plan had come together, was comprehensible, and even though more stuff was thrown against the wall in Act III, the focus was different. It was human and funny and I could have watched all night.

From this point, the Ratmansky dry wit takes over, and Act III is sweet and softly hilarious rather than grating as Act I was. The Prince, now looking like a Princeton preppie complete with sweater and messenger bag draped over his shoulder, assisted by his designated minions, searches throughout his kingdom, or at least throughout Long Island and New Jersey, for the girl whose foot would fit the abandoned glass slipper. He’s an equal opportunity prince, and gives everyone a chance, including a bemused gaggle of scantily-clad prostitutes and a small army of boys outfitted in flaming turquoise pants. Somehow Ratmansky is both politically correct and politically incorrect simultaneously.

Back in Cinderella’s factory home, she takes a position on a fire escape, holding the remaining shoe, while her stepmother and stepsister attempt to squeeze into the golden glass slipper. After all attempts fail, the shoe is dropped to the floor in disgust. Then, no dummy, Cinderella lets the shoe that she was holding while she watched from that fire escape/balcony fall to the floor. Yes, the other shoe drops. The Prince looks up (and I’m saying to myself – here comes a balcony scene), spies Cinderella, knows she’s The One, and…there’s a balcony scene, of sorts, where the two pass each other going up and down two sides of the same fire escape/staircase. Eventually they overcome the division that separates them, the two separated sides of the stairwell, dance passionately (but no, it’s not MacMillan), the fairy tramp lady calmly picks up the two slippers and stuffs them back into her bag to await her next godchild in need, and the ballet ends with Cinderella and the Prince on the floor, in each other’s arms.

Although the choreography is a strange mixture of ballet and ‘something else’ (at time looking like Twyla Tharp on steroids), it seems wickedly difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well. They may be portraying caricatures, but the dancing throughout, top to bottom, is exceptional, and the corps dancers, who are unidentified, are almost as remarkable here as they were in the Mariinsky’s “Swan Lake.”

Among the featured dancers, Margarita Frolova and Yekatrina Ivannikova as Khudishka and Kubishka, and Viktoria Brileva and Yuri Smekalov, the fiery and jazzy Dance Teachers, sparkled. Alisa Sodoleva and Alexey Tyutyunik, the leaders of the girl and boy packs in Act III, were appropriately swivel-hipped, slinky, and seductive.

But the three leads carried the ballet, and they were fabulous. I had not previously seen Mr. Zverev, but I found him to be particularly impressive. He was vain, conceited and arrogant one minute, and a sweetheart of a kind, loving prince the next. That he came across as believable in whichever incarnation he was portraying at a given point in the ballet is testament to his virtuosity. To those even remotely familiar with the Mariinsky, Ms. Kondaurova is a known quantity. She’s a tall, striking dancer to watch, even without the orange hair she wears here. Based on the limited times I’ve seen her, and on her performance in this piece, she comes across as powerful as Polina Semionova, but much more delicate, with a vague facial resemblance to Sylvie Guillem. She dominates the stage and everyone on it not because she towers over everyone else, but because she’s so good. That she also was obviously having a blast was a bonus.

And then there’s Diana Vishneva. Just when you thought that there is nothing more that this extraordinary ballerina can give or show, she outdoes herself. She is a phenomenon for whom descriptive words are inadequate. She stretches performance boundaries as much as she stretches her limbs every time she appears on stage, and can communicate as much standing still as moving, with an angle of her head, the curl of her lips, or a flash of her eyes. And when she does move, it’s as if she’s inhaling steps through every pore, and with every muscle and liquid bone. There’s no sign that she’s slowing down. And no matter how hard one might try, one cannot help but be transferred to the stage, to be next to her, and to be captivated by her.

I once wrote that if I could, I would travel the world to see Diana Vishneva dance. That is still true.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jan 19, 2015 8:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Saturday, January 17 and Sunday, January 18, 2015 performances of Alexei Ratmansky's "Cinderella."

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jan 22, 2015 1:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

In the Wall Street Journal, Robert Greskovic reviews two performances of "Swan Lake" and another of "Cinderella."

Wall Street Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Jan 24, 2015 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

In the New York Times, Gia Kourlas reviews the Thursday, January 22, 2015 performance of "Swan Lake" with Oxana Skorik and Xander Parish in the leading roles.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Alastair Macaulay reviews the Saturday, January 24, 2015 performance of "Chopin: Dances for Piano" for the New York Times. The program included Fokine's "Chopiniana," Benjamin Millepied's "Without" and Jerome Robbins' "In the Night."

NY Times

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Jan 27, 2015 12:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

The Mariinsky Ballet
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, New York

January 24, 2015
“Chopiniana,” “Without,” “In The Night”

-- by Jerry Hochman

Maybe it’s the mystique. Maybe the expectation. Or maybe it’s simply that the company is comprised of particularly exceptional dancers. But when the Mariinsky performs, somehow the production looks better – or at least as good – as whatever performance of the same ballet has come before. So it was with the Mariinsky’s program of dances with which it closed its run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: “Chopin: Dances for Piano.” Indeed, the company’s performance achieved the virtually impossible: it made a full evening of piano ballets, all to Chopin, tolerable.

The program opened with Michael Fokine’s “Chopiniana.” The ballet has been performed in several slightly different versions, with certain dances added and deleted, since its 2007 premiere in St. Petersburg. Renamed “Les Sylphides,” the ballet premiered in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909, with Vaslav Nijinksky as the Dreamer/Poet, and Tamara Karsavina and Anna Pavlova as two of the sylph soloists. Its first presentation in the United States was in 1911, and it is presently in the repertory of American Ballet Theatre, most recently performed in 2013.

Even though I appreciate the stylistic rigor, the difficulty, and the seemingly endless sequence of beautiful frozen images, to me watching ‘Les Sylphides” is a little like watching paint dry. That having been said, the Mariinsky’s performance of “Chopiniana,” which is generally considered to be the first ‘plotless’ ballet, was almost exciting to watch – even to me. And although there was an overall weightiness to the performances by the lead dancers that made me miss the delicacy and purity most recently seen in the portrayals by ABT dancers Veronika Part (a former Mariinsky principal dancer), Hee Seo, and Sarah Lane, the Mariinsky leads danced, with one exception, like they were born to it.

This production is slightly different from others I’ve seen, which may be a result of its adherence to more of the original, or its revision by Agrippina Vaganova, or a combination of the two. It seems longer – there’s more dancing overall than I recall seeing previously, but it also looks more magnificent than the ABT production. The corps patterning in particular creates a Romantic feast from the moment the curtain opens – even more unexpectedly lovely since it follows the usually deleted (at least here) introductory fanfare, the same music to which Jerome Robbins’s opens his comic ballet classic “The Concert.” Hearing this introduction, my mind anticipated comedy; seeing an idyllic sylvan glade instead, inhabited by idyllic sylph ballerinas, was a glorious shock to my eyes. And the patterning and poses, though well within the stylistic framework, looks interestingly different – particularly the corps ballerinas posing with their languid arms crooked over their heads, or parading with one finger lightly but securely connected to the sylph forward and behind.

More importantly, these sylphs appeared to be having a wonderful time in their moonlit clearing hidden among soaring birch trees. For example, although dancers in the ABT production appear uniformly serene, Yana Selina, who I previously saw in the Pas de Trois in “Swan Lake,” and Anna Lavrinenko, sparkling in that same performance’s Neapolitan Dance, smiled gently throughout, which made their excellent execution more endearing.

Timur Askerov, the Poet/Dreamer, danced impeccably, and his partnering was secure. But to me his demeanor was more stoic than dreamy. Oxana Skorik, who danced the pas de deux with Mr. Askerov and was the most prominent of the three featured sylphs, was more problematic to me. She danced stiffly at first and seemed relatively uncomfortable (at least compared to her fellow lead sylphs), with a flat expression - nothing, not even serenity, radiating from her face. Her demeanor lightened as the performance progressed, but her performance, though certainly capable, was more ponderous than the others.

Benjamin Millepied is a choreographic curiosity to me. Although his pieces are capably crafted, I’ve rarely liked them. A former New York City Ballet principal dancer, I’ve previously described his pieces as existential and frenetic, as if created by a Jean-Paul Sartre with a NYCB accelerant. The ballet of his that I most enjoyed was an unusual, quirky-looking dance that he created in 2011 for The Pennsylvania Ballet called “This Part in Darkness,” which was buoyed by interesting stagecraft as much as the quality of its choreography. But I liked “Without” – perhaps because it’s one of Mr. Millepied’s early dances and more accessible than others; perhaps because it’s bears a superficial resemblance to Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering,” and perhaps because in many ways it’s the visual opposite of “Chopiniana.” Although it too is plotless, it moves quickly (there’s no stylistic posing; indeed, none of the dancers stands still for more than a second), relationships and emotions are examined and briefly exposed, and there’s no danger of anyone in the audience dozing through it.

In its initial incarnation, presented at the Joyce Theater in 2008, “Without” was choreographed on young dancers, many of whom would later join American Ballet Theatre. I did not see it then, so I don’t know if changes have since been made. But it’s a very likeable, deliciously dynamic little piece now (it premiered with the Mariinsky in 2011), and a wonderful vehicle for the five pairs of Mariinsky dancers in it.

At times, “Without” looks like a study – snippets of dances, some lasting seconds, some lasting a few minutes, that respond to the Chopin music almost phrase by phrase, and then are pieced together. But that description is not a fair representation of the ballet as a whole. Rather, the bits and pieces that comprise “Without” are integrated in a way that camouflages the fragmentation, with couples (identifiable because they wear the same costume color) dancing together, changing partners, dancing solos, or in groups of varying components. As each little dance ends, the dancers involved exit through narrow panels, like closed vertical blinds, which surround the back and sides of the stage.

There’s no plot to “Without,” but the dances within it are connected to each other by the personalities that the music and Millepied’s choreography create – all of which relate varying types of romantic passion. For example, the girl in green, Margarita Frolova, is a lovable sprite who percolates through most of whatever she’s assigned to dance, presenting a youthful relationship with her ‘color’ partner, Xander Parish; Nadezhda Batoeva, the girl in purple, appears somewhat more cerebral with her partner, Filipp Stepin; the girl in blue, danced by a stunning-looking Kristina Shapran, is vibrant and dramatic with her partner Andrei Yermakov; and Anastasia Matvienko, the girl in red, is more circumspect and ‘real’ in her emotionally complex relationship with Konstantin Zverev (she’s the one who is left ‘without’ a partner at the ballet’s end). Tatiana Tiliguzova and Ernet Latypov, in orange, who completed the cast, had less defined personalities in the piece.

The finest piece on the program was also, visually, the simplest. Robbins’s “In The Night” is one of his masterpieces because it is so complexly compressed. By that I mean that although Robbins stuffs the many intricacies of a relationship into his choreography, he does so by using what appear to be a minimum of extraneous movement. Every step is there for a reason; every combination speaks.

I’ve seen “In The Night,” which premiered at NYCB in 1970, performed by many companies, and I’ve never seen a poor performance of it. But this performance was particularly vibrant. And aside from the extraordinary talent of the dancers, perhaps some of the credit should go to Ben Huys, who staged it. I remember Mr. Huys from the 1985 Prix de Lausanne competition, which was held that year in New York, and from his years with NYCB from 1986-1996; based on this performance, his qualities as a ballet master/repetiteur are the equal to his qualities as a dancer.

The three couples represent three different ‘types’ of relationships: one young and passionate; another more refined; and the third more mature, and the emotional ingredients that comprise each is expressed in excruciating, but exquisite, choreographic detail. Equally marvelous, however, is how Robbins ties it all together at the end, when the couples meet and exchange pleasantries, never knowing what really happens in private, in the night. Ms. Matvienko and Mr. Stepin danced the youthful pair; Yekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchencko the ‘adults’; and Viktoria Tereshkina and Yuri Smekalov the mature couple. Singling out one pair more than the others is unfair, since each one was flat out fabulous, but Ms. Kondaurova and Mr. Ivanchenko – perhaps because she is so majestic and his partnering efforts so exceptionally difficult –were particularly exciting to watch.

The three dances were performed to piano accompaniment by different musicians: Alexandra Zhilina played “Chopiniana,” Philip Kopachevsky performed the score for “Without,” and Lyudmila Sveshnikova for “In The Night.” Each performed zestfully, and, since the piano was in the pit, somewhat miraculously since it must have been virtually impossible for the pianists to see, and respond to, the action on stage.

Compared to its full length programs, this Chopin program was less impressive overall. But it provided a view of the Mariinsky that is not often presented here, including invaluable insights into the capabilities and stage personalities of the Mariinsky dancers below principal level. When the company next visits New York, hopefully it will broaden its programming to include more such opportunities for is dancers, and for local audiences.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Jan 30, 2015 2:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Robert Greskovic reviews the "Chopin: Dances for Piano" program for the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Jan 30, 2015 3:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mariinsky Ballet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Mariinsky season at BAM for the New York Observer.

NY Observer

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