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Ballet World Stars

'Pas de deux from ‘Carmen,’ ‘The Dying Swan,’ ‘Street Car Named Desire,’ ‘Harold and Maude,’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ pas de deux Swan Lake'

by Stuart Sweeney

April 19, 2003 -- Estonian National Opera House, Tallinn

From time to time dancers from the Mariinsky make their way to Tallinn to perform a Gala for their faithful fans in Estonia and much needed cash no doubt. Although this programme was not without interest, the patience of many was stretched when there was some 10 minutes of classical ballet and around 1 hour of modern ballet by A.Kononov performed by talented young Coryphees and Corps de Ballet members rather than “World Stars”.

The classical ballet was provided in two short bursts. To open we saw Julia Makhalina
and Ilja Kuznetsov in the bedroom pas de deux from Roland Petit’s “Carmen”. On an empty stage to canned music and without a context, this extract never took wing and appeared under-rehearsed. With that we waved goodbye to Kuznetsov.   Makhalina appeared once more to dance “The Dying Swan” and with her supple back and expressive arms it made for a very agreeable cameo. And that was that for the classical ballet contribution. The programme, on one sheet of A4 without images or bio promised pas de deux from “The Corsaire” and “Swan Lake,” but these were nowhere to be found.

For the remainder of the evening we saw three one-act works by A. Kononov. I’ve tried to find his name on the Internet to at least find out what the “A” stands for, but without success. The best piece was based on Tenneesee Williams’ “Street Car Named Desire,” although the programme names the piece “Street Cat named Desire.” This may look like a typo, but in Estonian the words are totally different, but your guess is as good as mine. This tortured ballet setting of the story of Blanche DuBois and her sister and brother-in-law is uneven and the role of Mitch is seriously underwritten. In addition the ending is abrupt following an extended bare foot solo by Anna Sõssojeva as Blanche. Nevertheless despite these caveats, the passion and commitment of Sõssojeva, Pavel Moskvito and Anton Lukovkin and the movement won me over. The music by Arvo Pärt also helped, an especially a fine recording (uncredited) of “Fratres” for violin and piano.

“Harold and Maude” featured the 70 year old Alla Ossipenko as the old woman who rescues Harold from nihilism and suicide. Ossipenko gives a performance full of joie de vivre, but overall it was too sugary for me despite Lukovkin’s emotional and fluent performance. Less satisfactory was a pas de duex “Romeo and Juliet” to Tchaikovsky with odd little hops and ungainly movement for the young lovers.

On the strength of “Street Car/Cat”, I will watch out for Kononov in future, but again I was left with the impression that new choreography in Russia remains at an early stage of development.

Was the choice of programme an acknowledgment of the sophisticated taste of Tallinn ballet fans who have seen the modern “Coppelia” and “Cassandra” or a shameless piece of exploitation of the hunger to see Mariinsky stars? We’ll never know, but further performances with this balance of modern dance will soon see dwindling audiences in my view.

Edited by Jeff.

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