Le Halte de Cavalerie, Divertissements and Paquita
27th July 2008
For their final London programme the Mikhailovsky Ballet presented us with some of the gems of their back catalogue. I had only seen Le Halte de Cavalerie before in the form of an extended pas de deux, so the opportunity of seeing this one act work by Petipa was something to look forward to. You wouldn’t easily guess that this ballet was choreographed by Petipa as the emphasis on character dancing and lack of lifts, put one in mind of Bournonville, in fact I even spotted one of those open-armed jetés that are almost the signature step of Bournonville’s oeuvre. The story line is simple: two girls, Maria ( Anastasia Lomachenkova) and Teresa (Olga Semyonova) , are rivals for the affections of country boy Peter (Anton Ploom) and are squaring up to one another when a troop of soldiers arrives with the intention of putting up in the village. They are very attracted to the girls and the Colonel, played with comic genius by Andrei Bregvadze, proves there’s no fool like an old fool in his pursuit of Teresa. In the end the chocolate soldiers depart and Peter and Maria pair off together. This ballet was very much the highpoint of the afternoon as I doubt that many had ever seen the work in its entirety. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Mikhailovsky Ballet for bringing it to London.
The central divertissements also included some rarities starting with The Fairy Doll, a ballet that was first seen not in Russia but in Austria I believe. Danced to toy town music by prolific ballet composer Josef Bayer, it is undeniably cute with tiny Sabina Yapparova in a pink powder puff of a tutu being courted by two Pierrots attempting to woo her with very impressive displays of technique. This was followed by The Dragonfly; a solo danced by Anna Zhuravlova which I presume is based on the famous piece that Pavlova used to dance. Certainly Zhuravlova wore a costume that seemed an exact facsimile of Pavlova’s, but the programme notes offered no information about the work.
Esmeralda, a slightly more familiar number, came next in the scene where Esmeralda pines for the handsome Phoebus while the poet Pierre Gringoire, who is in love with her, tries fruitlessly to distract her. Ekaterina Borchenko was the sorrowing Esmeralda with Nikolai Korypaev as long-suffering Pierre. Both danced well as did the tambourine-bashing girls who formed the small corps de ballet.
The pas de trois known as the Ocean and the Pearls is from the divertissement that forms part of a journey to the sea-bed undertaken by the hero, Ivan in that very Russian ballet, Little Humpbacked Horse. Andrei Yakhnyuk, a dancer I used to think rather self effacing, seems to have developed a far greater sense of self-assurance since joining the Mikhailovsky Company. In his role of The Ocean he demonstrated new-found aplomb when an unfortunate error on his part was quickly rectified and he danced the rest of the piece very well. His two pearls were his off-stage wife, Sabina Yapparova and Anna Zhuravlyova, both of whom danced with considerable charm.
I think a lot of people in the audience were seeing Messerer’s Spring Waters pas de deux for the first time as there were some audible gasps for the spectacular double work. As danced by the very watchable Irina Perren and Marat Shemiunov it is easy to understand how this Soviet showpiece has earned its show-stopping status. I’m told there was a time when the piece was routinely encored, but there was no repeat on this occasion, more because encores are considered a thing of the past than the quality of the dancing on display; however it is a tradition I’d like to see restored.
Although it wasn’t listed in the programme, the final piece in the diverts section was the ever-popular pas de deux from Le Corsaire danced by the Matvienkos. Denis Matvienko’s thrilling performance in this work is well known to London audiences and he demonstrated yet again that virtuosity is his middle name but Anastasia isn’t far behind her husband when it comes to dazzling technique as her strong fouettés were absolutely on the spot until almost the end of the sequence when she strayed a little. All the same it was a remarkable display and I’m really warming to this dancer who possesses a rare degree of versatility to match her fine dancing and winning personality.
The final ballet was Paquita led by Ekaterina Borchenko and Marat Shemiunov, it is a good choice for rounding off any performance with its succession of beautifully choreographed solos and my only disappointment was that the pas de trois wasn’t included on this occasion. Each of the girls danced well and with confidence but I regret that individual names were not published on the cast sheet. Shemiunov was out of his depth in this though. A very striking dancer in other roles, he didn’t have the right bearing for Paquita and held his upper body as stiff as a board, a classic case of miscasting as this dancer had impressed in so much else in the company’s season.
It was a great pity that this hitherto unfamiliar company paid us such a fleeting visit, but London took the Mikhailovsky dancers to its heart so I’m hoping it won’t be long before the company returns, when they do they will be assured of a very warm welcome.