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PostPosted: Sat Jul 07, 2007 8:24 am 
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Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
Premiere: “Suspended Aria”
Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre
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.


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PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2007 5:45 pm 
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Thanks, Catherine, for another very fine review. Was there anything really distinctive about this work aside from the comparisons to George Balanchine's style ? Was there anything in particular that you liked ?

I've mentioned Noah Gelber. Having only seen his "The Overcoat" at the 2006 Mariinsky Festival, I was very impressed with what I thought was his ability to give his characters very distinct and strong personalities with his choreography which is an interesting contrast to the more 'abstract' approach of George Balanchine and now perhaps Peter Quanz.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 11:04 am 
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Well, what I liked, and what I should perhaps have emphasized more in the review, is Quanz's classical tendencies. Every other new work I've seen has always been more modern, as in Forsythe-like movement. How can I put this....both Gelber and Miroshnichenko I'd call contemporary choreographers or rather, their movement styles --both of which I love immensely for differen reasons -- are more contemporary, and neither is what I'd call "classical", although they do have classical components.

Gelber's Overcoat was wonderful at combining unique movement -- each character's steps were unique to that character -- with a story line. Mirosnichenko's "Swann" and his latest "Ring" and "Organ Grinder" all go beyond the abstractness of Forsythe-like movement into even newer forms; each of his pieces has a theme to carry it forward, but his are not a story ballets (as Overcoat) and do not attempt to recreate a classical structure.

Quanz's work is classically inclined; perhaps technically, it is "neoclassical". It's structured, there's a corps de ballet, demi soloists and principal dancers. It's score is classical: it's set to a Symphony, so we have four movements, there's a beginning, middle, and an end. The way he weaves the dancers in and out, emphasizing certain strains or notes in the music, and the way he built an entire piece on the musical themes, and gave abstract characters an emotional theme (loss) -- that is not easy to do, and rarely done well nowadays. If Quanz has a flaw, it's that he is similar to Balanchine, and my guess is he will have to fight against that. I have the impression he already is fighting against it, as he stated in our interview that many people do compare him to Mr B, but his work is different. I see the relationship too, or saw it, when I watched the dress rehearsal. But here is definitely a more classically inclined choreographer and I imagine he will be able to easily hold his own place on the world stage in coming years and decades simply due to his talent.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 3:26 pm 
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Thanks, Catherine, for the additional descriptions. It appears that a key factor here might be 'how well he does it', as well as the style itself. I do look forward to seeing his work.

Getting back to Noah Gelber for a moment. In "The Overcoat" I was pleasantly surprised to see how independent of the Forsythe style he seemed to be. I do like Forsythe by the way. He did state his intention to adapt "The Overcoat" as much as possible to the 'natural' style of the Kirov dancers.

Of the dancing that was included in Noah Gelber's "The Golden Age" (It apparently was mostly mime), from a several minute video clip that I saw on the internet, it seemed to have a bit of a 'Broadway' feeling to it. If you care to comment, did you notice a significant difference ? I again have to say that I hope to see more of his work and I am hoping at the Mariinsky.

I am just generally curious about new possibilities that the Mariinsky might add to it's traditional excellent programming. I do feel that seating sales generally confirm that the Mariinsky's traditional programs have large public support and 'new directions' over the long term would certainly be welcome but not critical to the company's future success.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 10, 2007 4:02 pm 
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If I could add one more thought. After having mentioned mime as a large part of "The Golden Age" I started thinking about Mikhail Baryshnikov's recent performance in Ann Arbor and the announced retirement of Farouk Ruzimatov.

As these dancers get older they may not be able to do the great dance steps anymore but as is often said the artistry keeps developing. The idea often fascinates me of the development of some 'Western' dance in a more 'Oriental' direction, where arm gestures and facial expressions become the essence. Perhaps what are now considered 'character roles' (example--the performances of Vladimir Ponomarev at the Mariinsky) could be adapted in this direction. Just an idea, especially for aging dancers at the Mariinsky and elsewhere, who still have a wealth of artistry to express.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2007 6:01 am 
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Hi Buddy,

Yes, Gelber's Golden Age was very Broadwayesque. The entire production was rather Broadwayesque, from the fast-walkers and sunbathers in the initial scene to the nightclub singer and acrobatic display, I agree w/you on that point.

Luckily the Mariinsky ticket sales do not rely on new productions -- most premieres here by unknowns are met skeptically by the locals, at best. You wont see a sold out house for them as easily as you will for a routine performance of "Swan Lake", for example.

I am not sure I understood what you meant about the Oriental/Western style for character dancers (?) But I do know many big artists branch into other forms of theatre or dance, as both Baryshnikov and Ruzimatov have already done.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 14, 2007 9:08 am 
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Some more news. The nominees for St. Petersburg's 13th Annual Golden Sophit awards have been announced, and they include:

Best female role in a ballet:
Daria Vasnetsova – for her part in Donvena Pandoursky's "Krotkaya" ("The Meek One") to music by Rachmaninov, conductor Valery Gergiev
Ekaterina Osmolkina – for the role of Flora in Sergei Vikarev's "Le Reveil du Flore" (Flora's Awakening), to music of R. Drigo, conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov

Best male role in a ballet:
Alexander Sergeev - for his part in Donvena Pandoursky's "Krotkaya" ("The Meek One") to music by Rachmaninov, conductor Valery Gergiev
Andrian Fadeev - for the role of Zephir in Sergei Vikarev's "Le Reveil du Flore" (Flora's Awakening), to music of R. Drigo, conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov

Best choreographic work:
Sergei Vikarev - for "Le Reveil du Flore" (Flora's Awakening), to music of R. Drigo, conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov

In addition to these nominations, People´s Artists of the USSR and Mariinsky Theatre ballet coaches Olga Moiseyeva and Ninella Kurgapkina received a prize from the nominating council "For artistic longevity and unique contributions to the performing arts in St Petersburg".


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