Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet

"Romantic Ballet Night"

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, CA

June 4, 2002
By Ed Lippman

Billed as Romantic Ballet Night, this evening's performance was just that. But it was more than mere romance we saw on stage last night. We saw the quintessential romantic view of Russian Ballet as one rarely gets the opportunity to see in sunny Los Angeles. After a dearth of companies trading on the names "Russian" and Moscow" this past year, it was a pleasure to see a company that not only lived up to expectations but exceeded them.

Every member of this corps delivered a strong technique and flair for movement that left people scattered around me gasping audibly throughout the evening. Just when it seemed that one could not see a more challenging lift, one so unique as to defy description appeared. The unity of the women's corps was beautiful to see, the ballerinas spirited and in complete control. And the men of the company were equal in almost every aspect to their partners.

Spirit Ball, choreographed by artistic director Dmitry Bryantsev, opened the evening. A single piano playing Chopin rested to one side of the stage, the pianist's light the only hard source of light in an otherwise dim, whispery set. Sheer curtains billowing softly line the stage topped by dimly lit candles. Five couples slowly begin an elegant, floaty waltz. They interact, change partners temporarily, then leave the stage to the first couple. Alternately, each couple dances their own version of a romance, some more passionate than others, some more violent, each a differing degree of maturity. While one is more tender with close embraces and lingering lifts, another is more grounded as though bound to the floor. Each is subtle and beautiful in its own right.

Between each pas de deux all five couples again share the stage, each interlude seems a reminder of how different our public and private lives are, the posturing and posing one assumes in society while passion flares beneath. By the time the fifth couple begins their dance, one is almost lulled into a state where images and music blend into a meandering melancholy. Yet the fifth couple is different, their dance is slow and deliberate, but the intensity between the two is fierce, a romance on the verge of something -- something dangerous, something violent, something renewed? The dynamics change constantly between them from tenderness to violence. Whatever has changed is more mature, more experienced and wise. While all five couples were excellent partners, the maturity of this pair was evident; lifts lingered longer, her gestures and footwork subtler, the way they looked to each other then leaned on one another at the end of their pas de deux, was deeper, more meaningful.

As the couples again take the stage the melancholy has lifted. They repeat the same steps from the opening interlude but it is not the same. We have changed as a result of what we've seen. We've taken the road with them on their journey and see them in a different light. The entire piece comes into its own as the lights fade and the dancers slowly waltz across the stage.

I rarely notice lighting during a performance. The stage was dimly lit throughout the act with the exception of a sharply lit square in the center of the stage where the bulk of the pas de deux took place. Ordinarily I would feel I missed some of the dance that took place in the darker areas of the stage, but the shadow play is a necessary part of this piece. Alexander Kelganov and Anatoly Remizov's lighting works well in this instance adding to the mood of the dance.

Chopiniana: Eventually restaged by the Ballet Russes as Les Sylphides, this version is based on the original choreography of Mikhail Fokine. The corps, subtle and brilliant in their execution, was one of many highlights of this piece. The curtain rose on the company arranged in a tableau before a backdrop of trees. Backlit to a simple yet dramatic effect, the black, white and gray forest dominated over the dreaming poet (Victor Dik) and the sylphides.

In keeping with the company's strength of staging classical pieces true to the original choreography, the company delivered remarkably on many levels. The corps were beautiful as they hold extended poses, their timing near perfect as they moved as one. Partnering was very strong and sustained as repeated lifts seemed to last an eternity before settling imperceptibly back onto pointe. One moment in particular stood out as Victor Dik held his partner at arms length while kneeling on the floor. She leaned into him and bourréed in place on the tops of her toes, all the while appearing suspended in time and space. One had to marvel at this little trick.

Only one problem was evident. Halfway through the act, one of the sylphides fell off pointe hitting the stage full force with a scary sound. The audience responded with appropriate shock and concern. To her credit, she got back up and went about her dance as though nothing happened. Fortunately it appeared as though there was no harm done. This happened again in the third act as another ballerina took a fall in exactly the same spot. Again, no one was hurt. I was surprised one could slip on a marley floor. I hope they address this problem before someone is seriously hurt during their run here.

Giselle pas de deux: This short pas de deux was danced by Prima Ballerina Oxana Kuzmenko and Stansilav Boukharaev. Kuzmenko owned the stage in both demeanor and technique. Deliberate, slow developées a la seconde hovered effortlessly high above her shoulder. Double attitude turns ended in deep, pliant pliés with a high, sure attitude. She wasn't just dancing the role of the departed Giselle, she was the spirit in every way. Well matched by Boukharaev, her maturity accentuated his youthful mourning. While he was far younger than his ballerina, Boukharaev's abilities and attentiveness as a partner were up to the task.

L. Ober: This fury of turns and lifts seemed like a battle of wills, a delightful show of one-upmanship which both Natalia Krapivina and Gregory Smilevsky seemed to enjoy immensely. Krapivina's feisty disposition knew no bounds as she dared Smilevsky to progressively tougher levels of technical displays. This was an immensely pleasing couple to watch and the choreography seemed ideal to show off their strengths. Together, their alternating turns and pirouettes were impeccably timed, landing as one repeatedly.

Excerpts from Walpurgis Night: This night of evil seemed more like a humorous romp through the woods. Impish devils pranced about as Vitaly Breusenko pursued Natalia Ledovskaya. There were some remarkable partnering moments here. Well executed, it felt out of place with the rest of the evening's theme. Ledovskaya delivered an assured performance, easily allowing herself to be thrown into towering lifts. Her hops backward in attitude were impressive. Yet the playful nature of the minions of evil was just a bit over the top. This added a campy air to the dance, which, again, felt out of place for the evening.

The night's performance ran very long, but time passed all too quickly. It has been a drought of truly remarkable ballet here if late and it was a revelation to see this company premier itself on the West Coast. One did not want the evening to end.

A few notes about the venue. I was less than enthused with my last ballet at this theater and it appears the management still has much to learn. But one would expect a steep learning curve for a company whose specialty is managing large sports venues and not theaters. There was no announcement to turn off cell phones or pagers. This was a huge problem as one cell phone after another went off through the entire evening. And people talked. And talked. And talked. I actually told someone to shut up. I've never felt compelled to do that in a theater before. Ushers continued to seat people well after the performance began and allowed people to move freely in and out of box seats. And one last tip to the concessionaire: Please stop selling refreshments in plastic bags. People opened and rustled these bags through the entire show. At one point it sounded like rain falling; so many bags were in action. Please, please make some changes in your handling of this venue.


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Edited by Malcolm.

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