Scheherazade/The Polovtsian Dances/Bolero
Centro de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música
5th May 2007
The Centro de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música is situated on the eastern side of the historic town of Salamanca in an area that appears to be undergoing regeneration. The venue itself is huge with a vast stage and an auditorium to match, filling it must be a challenge and the company did well to attract an audience that filled at least half of it.
The first work on the programme, Scheherazade, didn’t suit the large stage; its hothouse goings-on in the stifling environment of a middle-eastern harem should by rights look claustrophobic, but the company uses that watered-down version by Isobel Fokine that now seems standard in all Russian companies meaning much of the work’s impact is lost. The ballet has revolved around that exotic character The Golden Slave since the time of Nijinsky and the company’s leading man, Kirill Radev, made an intense though rather boyish looking slave, but definitely cute enough to tempt a sex-starved sultana.
Kasyan Goliezovsky is a choreographer virtually unknown outside of Russia and little of his work seems to have survived unfortunately, though such gems as his Scriabin Mazurka and Russian Dance are occasionally performed. The exception is his version of the Polovtsian Dances, still to be seen in the Bolshoi’s production of Prince Igor, which I saw in Moscow about seven years ago. Gediminas Taranda used to dance the role of Kuman in this work (I imagine he must have been fantastic) and he has now staged it for his own IRB. This Goliezovsky version is of course very similar in structure to the more familiar Fokine as the music very much dictates what is happening on stage, following the story of the opera with Prince Igor reluctantly witnessing an evening of Polovtsian culture; but here it is far more of a drama with the leading warrior, Kuman, competing with a rival called Jinete for the ownership of a ferocious female slave. Tremendously exciting, the dancers gave it everything they’d got: definitely the highlight of the evening.
For me Bolero conjures up visions of Torville and Dean and this unusual interpretation of the Ravel score hasn’t completely won me over yet, though I am in a minority here as everyone else who’s seen it appears to admire it very much. Before the music starts we hear a burst of thunder and a downpour of rain with lightning flashes revealing a woman on a high throne surrounded by acolytes. As the music begins the stage remains pretty much in darkness with just individual bodies or faces illuminated in the midst of the gloom but generally a lot of the dancing remains in darkness even though there is some spectacular stuff being performed at the front of the stage. Eventually the light increases to reveal a large corps de ballet with both sexes identically dressed in long heavy skirts split in the front to reveal a gold lining that catches the light as the dancers turn and jump. As the music reaches a crescendo ‘Diosa’ descends from her throne walking across the backs of her disciples as the leading male dancer, Zhanibek Kaiyr, as a kind of high priest leads her followers in a frenzied finale.
8th May 2007
Driving down to Marbella from Salamanca took a while because of our decision to take the scenic route making a detour through the Monfrauge National Park where we were rewarded by the sight of no fewer than fourteen eagles soaring above the rocky crags high above the still waters of a lake: a magical sight. As we drove south the roadside gorse bushes and wild roses gave way to bougainvillea and prickly pear and the temperature soared. Apparently the weather hadn’t been so good earlier in the tour and by the look of the swans that evening it was easy to tell who had been to the beach that day and who hadn’t, also who had been to the beach and probably wished they hadn’t. The Teatro Cuidad in Marbella is a tiny Art Deco style theatre with a stage so small it created a few logistical problems for the technical team and meant the dancers found they had to clip their wings somewhat (pun intended)
Although the company dances an abridged version of Swan Lake, all the vital action remains intact, although some numbers such as the national dances in the ballroom scene have been scaled down, but only in the numbers of dancers as they all retain their impact. An oddity of this production is that there are two jesters instead of the usual one. Jesters in the UK have been redundant for years now as most people think that even one jester is one too many; nevertheless the ploy of having two seems to work, with a pair of virtuosos (Daniyar Mergaliev and Kirill Radev) dancing flat out to outdo one another and acting as a distraction to their melancholy prince.
In the principal roles Lubov Sergienko’s Odette was gracious but slightly distant towards her prince, rather as if the promise of love and freedom couldn’t dent her subservience to Rothbart. Considering the pocket-handkerchief size of the stage I was surprised that she opted for the Piqué turns instead of the fouettés though. As ‘Prince Sigfrido’ Nariman Bekzhanov danced extremely well and has the bearing of a potential danseur noble, but like the other dancers he was rather restricted by lack of space. The double work went well as these two dancers are physically very well suited, but I didn’t detect much chemistry between them. In this version Siegfried’s betrayal condemns him to death and it is Odette’s last minute intervention that saves his life and breaks Rothbart’s hold over her at the same time.
The audience in Marbella seemed to be an equal mix of Spanish, Russian and British, but despite the theatre being small, it wasn’t quite full and I’ve a feeling the town has interests other than the arts closer to its heart - those who saw any of that extraordinary TV series Marbella Belles will know exactly what I mean. In spite of the less than full house the audience was very appreciative of the dancers and they got a lot of applause at the end.
Carmina Burana/The Polovtsian Dances/Bolero
Teatro de Rojas
12th May 2007
The Teatro de Rojas in Toledo has a pretty blue auditorium that belies its rather drab exterior and this venue was packed out for the final performance I was to see on this tour. The musically high-octane programme was Carmina Burana, the Polovtsian Dances and Bolero, any one of which would have provided a stirring climax to any evening.
Choreographers just love Carmina Burana and I must have seen a number of different versions, but on the whole I think the music defeats them, even though the music was written with performance in mind, at best only a couple of episodes have looked good in each production I’ve seen but this one manages to hold the attention pretty much all the way through. Choreographed by the Estonian choreographer Mai Murdmaa, this was only the second work of hers I had seen, the first being Daphnis and Chloe, danced by Baryshnikov and Osipenko in Leningrad some thirty odd years ago.
The opening ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi’ has Kirill Radev as a young man angrily expressing his frustration with fate’s cruelties and hurling himself across the stage in furious jetés. A dynamic start before the much softer Springtime Section with the girls wafting onto the stage wearing rather beautiful wreathes of flowers on their heads. The costumes are startlingly modern here with the men in decorated jeans and cut-off vests and the girls in floaty green skirts with matching short tops
In the following scene, In The Tavern, Murdmaa finds seemingly endless ways of expressing the unwitting humour of a bunch of inebriates staggering around the stage to possibly the finest drinking song ever written “In taberna quando sumus non curamus quid sit humus dust” (When we are in the tavern, we do not think how we will go to dust). Vladimir Shmigelsky led the binge drinkers in their humorous revel and made a very comic drunkard. This scene ends oddly with the entry of what I took to be a butterfly, who fluttered around the bewildered looking drunks. Seems I got it wrong though as according to the programme she was meant to be an angel.
Carmina Burana’s essentially lascivious nature comes to the fore in the final section reminding us that the text was written by naughty medieval monks allowing their minds to dwell on sex rather than piety and The Courts of Love, has the two leading dancers in ‘nude’ costumes illustrating a variety of sexual positions in a way that is both innocent and arousing. The two exceptionally beautiful bodies belonged to Lubov Sergienko and Nariman Bekzhanov.
Although the programme supplied a good deal of information about Orff’s music, there was little about the choreographer and I had to ask a couple of the dancers when they thought the work had been premiered. Apparently it was around thirty years ago, which would place it firmly within the Soviet era when ballets were strictly scrutinized before being passed for the stage, so how they managed to get those overtly sexual poses past the censors must remain a bit of a mystery. On the whole I found the choreography for this work very inventive, though there are some repetitious bits here and there, but it’s a lengthy piece and Murdmaa keeps the pace going all the way through. Only the fussy angel struck a wrong note with me.
The Polovtsian Dances was, if anything even more exciting than in Salamanca with fabulous performances from Zhanibek Kaiyr as the dominant Kuman, and the incredibly versatile Kirill Radev as his shaven-headed adversary Jinete pursuing the fiercely resisting slave girl of Elena Kolesnichenko whose angry broad leaps were as high and wide as any male dancer’s.
Once again Bolero brought the evening to a close, a very triumphant close too with the entire audience on their feet to give the dancers a standing ovation.