Program - 'Chopiniana,' 'Scheherezade,' and 'The Firebird'
by Art Priromprintr
October 21, 2003
County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, CA
Kirov Ballet shimmered in its mixed bill of three "classic" works by Mikhail
Fokine on Tuesday night. Seeing the Kirov Ballet perform "La Bayadere"
and this program of Fokine pieces so close together offers a really interesting
comparison of ballet and dance drama as it progresses through time. They
present two similar ways of telling a story without words, but with grand
spectacle and dancing: one old, one new. The new, however, is clearly
more developed, sophisticated, and much more interesting in many ways.
Of course "Bayadere" has its merits. The Kingdom of the Shades and the
classicism of the Grand Pas Classique are clearly treasures of ballet
heritage. But when it comes down to storytelling and keeping a modern
audience engaged, Fokine wins. By comparison, "Bayadere" is overlong,
drawn out and trivial. Fokine's "Scheherazade" is trivial as well -- but
there are plenty of other things to feast on during the proceedings. There
is the visual spectacle: eye popping, detailed sets, alongside colorful
and appealing costumes. The sets here made "La Bayadere's" new sets and
costumes look muted and tame by comparison.
The one-act format also provides for a much more pleasing dramatic effect.
Fokine can just tell a story and use dance much more simply. "Bayadere"
draws the story out, and fluffs up the middle with random, unrelated divertissement
dancing, which stretches the plot extremely thinly. But Fokine entertains
by going ahead and telling the story right away -- there are pretty dances
throughout, mind you, but it has a much more satisfying dramatic unity.
Plus -- the audience is more engaged, never losing sight of the story
amid the clutter.
Then, of course there is the great music in these three Fokine works,
the use of which sets these ballets apart from most of the 19th century
story ballets (Tchaikovsky's ballets excepted). Great music immeasurably
adds to the atmosphere and increases the drama in a performance -- and
the music here simply leaves Minkus' score for "Bayadere" in the dust.
"The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky is a fantastic piece of music -- it
has taken on a life outside of ballet theater and makes an astonishing
effect on its own in the concert hall as well. Its unconventional rhythms
and sheer drama make the audience sit up and take notice. "Scheherazade,"
by Nikolai Rimksy-Korsakav, has dramatic swells and sweet violin passages
that set the mood for something exotic, while upping the emotion. (This
staging, however, interpolates an odd piece of music that isn't from the
original four-movement "Scheherazade" piece for an extended Slave-Zobeide
pas de deux). All this fantastic music gives drive and energy to the ballets,
especially when they were played as exceptionally as they were by the
Mariinsky Theater orchestra -- under the baton of Mikhail Agrest -- on
Tuesday. It gives the audience something more than what is simply on stage
for the evening. Combined with the stage spectacle, the effect is rapturous.
Minkus is merely functional by comparison.
Ballet is not ballet with out the dancing, of course. And each work in
this program has dancing -- attractive and appealing dancing, to boot.
But what makes it stand out is its relevance to the rest of the proceedings.
In the story pieces, dancing drives the plot. In a symphonic mood piece
like "Chopiniana," it creates the atmosphere and brings to life the Romantic
ideal that Fokine was honoring in the piece. It all comes together when
it binds itself to complex, quality music, leaving you with more than
just a pretty dance.
And, oh yes: Tuesday night's dancing. It was uniformly great, especially
from the corps de ballet.
"Chopiniana," Fokine's tribute to Romanticism, is one of the earliest
instances of ballet symphonism -- that is, a full dance without a plot
to strictly follow. There is just the music by Chopin, and choreography
set to it. The dances "float" atop the music; the effect is dreamlike
and beautiful. The Kirov corps was highly impressive here on Tuesday night
-- the lingering arms, the perfect unity throughout. The performance was
mesmerizing. The soloists, Irina Zhelonkina, Yana Selina, Irina Golub,
and Danila Korsuntsev, were all solid and highly musical.
"Scheherazade," was a somewhat silly, story-book tale of illicit passion
in an exotic locale, the spectacle reigned. Leon Bakst's sets and costumes
were eye-catching and very colorful, while Fokine's dances are attractive
and entertaining. Uliana Lopatkina was a beautiful and sexy Zobeide --
both in her physical appearance and her dancing. I loved when she unlocked
the Golden Slave's doors, threw the keys aside and snapped into a pose
to wait for him to come out -- it was passionate and it looked fantastic.
Igor Zelensky was her virtuosic and intense Golden Slave. Both danced
the pas de deux beautifully, though the dance itself was a bit long, and
seemed out of place from the rest of the ballet's quick pace.
"The Firebird" was led by the orchestra's incredible playing of the score.
Tatiana Amosava danced the Firebird competently, but relied mostly on
the lighting effects to produce much stage oomph when she appeared on
stage. Victor Baranov was Ivan -- his acting was good, but his partnering
of Amosova in the first scene proved shaky in spots. Yana Serebriakova
was a beautiful princess, and Vladimir Ponomarev a fantastically evil
Katschei. Ponomarev played the role to the hilt, and the audience loved
it. The corps de ballet was incredible throughout; their costumes were
a bit absurd and over the top, but the dancing was fierce and powerful
-- it made the already thunderous music have much more impact.
This program was a refreshing move away from "La Bayadere" and the seemingly
endless parade of full-length classics showing that dance drama can be
just as exciting in shorter form. Next in line for this ballet time-travel
is Balanchine in the 1960s, with "Jewels."
Edited by Catherine
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