'Chopiniana,' 'Les Noces,' and 'Scheherazade'
July, 2003 -- Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
"Chopiniana" or "Les Sylphides" as it is known outside of Russia, is always handicapped by the strident Polonaise that the Russians use as an overture. Fokine's first thoughts for this music with an opulent ballroom and Polish nobles were discarded almost at the outset but we are left with this inappropriate piece at odds with the mood of dreamlike melancholy that follows.
Last night's performance was exquisitely danced by the Kirov's superlative corps de ballet with every last dancer catching the reflective dreamlike mood. Danila Korsuntsev, as the Poet, danced with elegant softness and with soundless landings from his jumps. His pas de deux with Daria Sukhorukova was a lesson in how to make your partner appear totally weightless. The presence of Irina Zhelonkina dancing the Waltz in her usual impeccable style added to the very high standard of this performance, but it was Irina Golub, dancing the Prelude who made me catch my breath. A sylph of matchless grace and purity, she illuminates the stage with the radiant quality of her dancing.
"Les Noces" is probably the least cheerful wedding celebration you'll ever see. The clue is in the text of the music: the reference to a matchmaker tells us that this is an arranged marriage and Nastasia (the Bride) approaches her nuptials with more a sense of foreboding than of happiness. There is much sorrow as the parents take leave of their daughter to a rather uncertain fate; the bride herself is in pensive mood throughout and apprehensive about her future.
Bronislava Nijinska, the choreographer of this magnificent work always wanted the text sung in the language of the country of the dancers performing it, therefore I had previously heard the ballet sung in English and French. The Kirov's Russian text came as a wonderful bonus, sung superbly by members of the Kirov Opera.
Of course this was a totally new style for the Kirov dancers and in time I'm sure they will adapt to it, but I noticed what appeared to be a couple of apparent teething problems that I'm sure will disappear with familiarity.
The more I see of the Kirov's "Scheherazade" the more it irritates me, as just about everything in the production is wrong. The curtain rises, not on Leon Bakst's dazzling riot of colour, but on an approximation of his designs, watered down to allow space for the dancers, but which kill the feeling of claustrophobia in the suffocating, gilded cage of the harem in which these unfortunate women waste their lives.
The next major irritant is the playing of the role of the chief eunuch, who in this version becomes little more than a clown. Nicholas Beriosoff, who successfully staged this ballet around the world, used to perform this role, well into old age, with a sly venal subtlety totally lacking in the Kirov take on this character. Did the role's creator, Enrico Cechetti, play it for laughs? I don't think so. No one in this ballet should amuse us.
Then there is the duet for Zobeide and the Golden Slave. Putting a long romantic pas de deux into this ballet robs it of the fierce sexual impetus of a brief encounter and implies a romantic element that shouldn't, in fact, exist. I seem to remember reading that Vaslav Nijinsky never in fact touched Zobeide's body but allowed his hands only to appear to touch her. I shall have to go back to Karsavina's book "Theatre Street" and check that one out. I have already expressed my regrets over the current staging of the death of the Golden Slave. For the record, he should die upside-down with a spin on the neck and his feet pointing to the ceiling with a death spasm shaking his entire body.
A burst of the very warmest applause greeted London favourite Faroukh Ruzimatov as he made his entrance as the Golden Slave, and if his technique is now a little bit diminished by age, his charisma is not, and he dances with the passion and intensity of one completely engrossed in his role. As Zobeide, Svetlana Zakharova lacks the voluptuous quality that her role requires and burning lust seems to elude her. Nevertheless she relishes the drama of the role and brought a real sense of tragedy to her suicide. A pity the production's merits cannot match those of the dancers.
Edited by Catherine Pawlick.
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