Title: Still More Faces of the Kirov in Fokine's Dramatic Poetry and Lander's 'Études'
Author: Alastair Macaulay
Date: April 14 2008
Publisher: The New York Times
The Kirov Ballet's current three-week season at New York City Center comprises six different programs of repertory. Since five of these are more or less devoted to individual choreographers, the advance impression is that the Kirov is a great custodian company, devoted to choreography above all else.
In performance, however, things feel different. The Kirov is showing several different faces, and it demonstrates no interest in making them look part of a single artistic vision. The company's fourth program, which ran from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, was its sole truly mixed bill. It began with three pieces already seen in its Fokine program: "Chopiniana," "Le Spectre de la Rose" and "The Dying Swan." "Chopiniana" is the most uncomplicatedly beautiful event of the Kirov season so far, the one ballet in which the dancers seem to be truly dancing throughout, the one whose choreographic felicities still look fresh. And in "Le Spectre de la Rose" and "The Dying Swan" we at least see the main gist of Michel Fokine's dramatic poetry.
Whereas the all-Fokine program ended with the ludicrous melodrama that is "Scheherazade," this fourth program closes with a ballet new to this season's repertory, Harald Lander's "?tudes," which is ludicrous in quite another way. It proceeds from practice of the most basic classroom steps to full-costume demonstration of the most virtuoso steps without sustaining the least seriousness about ballet class work or choreography. I'm told that the original Danish "?tudes," which was created in 1948 and which then included different costumes, had immense charm. Yet I assume that even then it was attached to Knudage Riisager's tacky, trite and often thumping orchestral arrangement of Karl Czerny's original piano studies. The overture alone makes the heart sink.
At any rate, "?tudes," in the 30-odd years I've been watching performances by various international ballet companies, has been a paragon of inanity, piecing together dissimilar chunks of the ballet lexicon into one sensationalist collage after another. Is the silliest episode the one in which members of the corps de ballet, male and female, lie immobile, faces on the floor in apparent humiliation, while the three "star" dancers sail through virtuoso steps? Maybe. But what of the ultra-circusy sequence when the stage blacks out except for two narrow diagonal paths of light (an X) so that dancers can come hurtling along in run-run-jump!-run-run-jump! sequences? (Will one smash into another?)
The Kirov, which acquired "?tudes" in 2003, does it better than most. I wish these dancers were even half this fresh in their Petipa ballets. Olesia Novikova (in the ballerina role), with her unusually beautiful face, and Ekaterina Kondaurova (in the corps), with her extreme dignity, grandeur and bright copper hair, are among those who seem unfettered here, whereas the more serious beauties of their dancing in Petipa ballets arrive under a thick glaze that says, "We've been doing this for 10,000 years."
On Saturday afternoon the prize for quantitative technique went, again, to Leonid Sarafanov, who bounced without pause through a series of eight double air turns. Do I dare admit with "?tudes" (as with "Scheherazade") that if I have to watch it at all, I get more wicked pleasure from seeing terrible performances (sadly absent from this "?tudes") than impressive ones?
The Kirov's "Chopiniana" is different in several ways from the same ballet that is danced in the West as "Les Sylphides." Not just the imitation-Corot backdrop and the "Polonaise Militaire" overture, choreographic features too. Yet even if non-Russian companies did every step and every gesture of the Kirov version, surely they would still have only fractions of the style. I actually prefer a few details of the old Royal Ballet version, at least, as ballerinas like Lynn Seymour used to perform them. (She brought to life the Romantic nostalgia that the critic Arnold Haskell had described in Russian performances of the 1920s and '30s.) Yet I never miss them while watching the Kirov.
To observe the corps dancers send slow ripples, ideally supported from the torso, down their extended arms - now while on point with their backs to the audience in the opening dance, now while standing on the peripheries of the stage in the Mazurka and gesturing (as if to say of the leading dancer, "She went thataway!") - is just the most basic of this Kirov production's pleasures. And to follow the changing eloquence of the Valse pas de deux, as danced by Daria Vasnetsova and Danila Korsuntsev, is to be taken deep into a dream.