Published: July 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stravinsky
The Firebird – Fairy-tale ballet with an introduction and two tableaux to choreography by Mikhail Fokine
The Firebird – Alexandra Timofeevna
Prince Ivan – Ilia Kuznetsov
The Princess – Natalia Balakhnicheva
Kostchey – Igor Pivorovich
Dancers of The Kremlin State Ballet
Alexander Golovin – Designs

Scheherazade
Zobeide – Yulia Makhalina
Golden Slave – Nikolay Tsiskaridze
Shahriar – Igor Pivovorich
Dancers of The Kremlin State Ballet
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Music [Sheherazade, Op.35]
Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Léon Bakst – Designs


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Chopiniana:
Poet – Xander Parish
Seventh waltz, Prelude – Natalia Balakhnicheva
Mazurka – Irina Ablitsova
Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Fryderyk Chopin – Music [arr. Alexander Glazunov]

Alexandre Benois – Designs inspiration
Polovstsian Dances
Lead Polovtsian Warrior – Mikhail Martynyuk
Lead Polovtsian Maiden – Yuliya Voronina
Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Alexander Borodin – Music [from Prince Igor]
Nicholas Roerich – Designs inspiration

Scheherazade
Zobeide – Yulia Makhalina
Golden Slave – Xander Parish
Shahriar – Igor Pivovorich
Dancers of The Kremlin State Ballet
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Music [Sheherazade, Op.35]
Mikhail Fokine – Choreography
Léon Bakst – Designs

The Coliseum, London


The extant works of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes exert something of the fascination of Fabergé for the Russians of today but, unlike the master jeweller's creations, they were not fashioned in Mother Russia but in far distant lands. This explains the undimmed desire of Russian ballet companies since the fall of the Iron Curtain to reclaim what they see as part of their dance heritage. Andris Liepa (one-time dancer with the Kirov company) has for several years taken it upon himself to present Diaghilev's Ballets Russes repertoire, often in the West where, it can be argued, the performing traditions of these works are in fact somewhat stronger than back at home.

It is a pity that his latest Coliseum season was scuppered from the off by the cancellation of his new show-piece Cléôpâtre, a tribute to Ida Rubenstein (a non-classical dancer who nevertheless created roles in several works). He has had to cobble together programmes for his paying public and is to be congratulated for getting the curtain to rise at all. However, his claims that he presents restorations of original designs and choreography need to be taken with a large dose of salt. While Alexander Golovin’s original set designs for The Firebird (not Alexandre Benois’s as Liepa stated in his pre-performance address) are certainly evoked, they are not complete, nor is The Firebird’s costume anything like Bakst’s original for Tamara Karsavina, being a variation on Natalia Goncharova’s re-design from 1926. The choreography is certainly much as we know from The Royal Ballet’s echt version - as mounted by Diaghilev’s own régisseur Serge Grigoriev, his wife Lyubov Tchernicheva and the title role initially coached by its creator Karsavina - at least it is in the first scenes, but veers off significantly once Kostchey and his minions make their appearance. I cannot accept that their flappings and prancings have anything at all to do with Fokine. Even in the first garden scene what lacks from the off is the sense of detail and purpose; much of the Firebird’s movements are here balleticised, her farouche and defiant character smoothed out to make her just another balletic avian. Alexandra Timofeeva danced competently enough, even if there was little flexibility in her upper torso and no concern for a more 'period' forward placement of arms. Without the blazing menace of this fantastical bird, she was reduced to smiling inappropriately a great deal and pouting somewhat incongruously to her captor - she should have a rethink about her pole-dancer make-up too. Ilia Kuznetsov makes for a fine Prince Ivan, tall of stature, exuding noble arrogance and with more than a twinkle of the Errol Flynn in his eyes. I liked the sense of evil surrounding Igor Pivorovich’s Kostchey and noted the benevolence of Natalia Balakhnicheva’s Princess. It remained, however, a flightless performance, partly owing to the lack of forces deployed by the Kremlin State Ballet, partly to the use of a recording (unattributed) of Stravinsky’s wondrous score, and partly to Liepa’s own distinctly wonky version of the choreography.

Scheherazade was a good deal more consistent, even though Léon Bakst’s extraordinary designs were only hinted at in this seemingly cut-price production. Certainly, much of Fokine’s movement was performed, albeit in a very modern fashion, and with the insertion of an unneccesarily extended pas de deux for Zobeide and the Golden Slave. The ballet is a clever realisation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s score which can only really ever work with an extraordinary central couple who can compensate for the distinctly unfunny mincings of the Chief Eunuch and the general mummery that accompanies its exotic setting. I salute Pivorovich’s brooding Shahriar, who commands the stage as he does his harem and projects great strength of emotion. And now to the lead couple: the Mariinsky’s Yulia Makhalina is a superb Zobeide, haughty yet lustful, her wide eyes used to great effect in a telling final scene when she first begs the Shahriar’s forgiveness and then turns his knife upon herself. She moves with all the grace and composure of a lead ballerina, and was sensuously seductive in her couplings with the Golden Slave. Would that he had not been Nikolay Tsiskaridze, fresh from his leaving from the Bolshoi, yet with his blazing self-belief undimmed. As the Golden Slave, he kits himself out with more jewels than to be found in a sultan’s treasury, and here added to the already exaggerated effect with an Erté fascinator glumly attached to his be-turbaned head. He presents a somewhat mature figure these days, looks uncannily like George Michael in gold harem pants, yet seems utterly convinced that he can still be Nijinsky’s successor. Flashing a toothy grin to one and all, he postures and poses, launches into admittedly still impressive spins but possesses all the animal allure of a sheepskin rug, or here, rather more a sequinned bedspread.

Matters looked up at the Saturday matinée performance when Makhalina tussled with a British export to the Mariinsky Xander Parish, a tall, elegant dancer who has found favour in Saint Petersburg after being shunted into the corps de ballet sidings in London. His Golden Slave was as understated as Tsiskaridze's was overblown, twenty-four carat rather than spray-painted. He may not be physically ideal for the role - he is very much the tall danseur noble - but his care with the choreography and the evident chemistry with his Zobeide were a blessed relief. His death was as it should be, a slice to the abdomen from one of the Shahriar's men and a fall to the floor, rather than the goggle-eyed, "mother, I'm too young to die" D. W. Griffith screen test we had witnessed on Thursday.

Parish impressed mightily in Chopiniana, too (known in the West as Les Sylphides), artfully expressing the Poet's moonlit encounter with dancing sylphs, his long limbs the model of understated grace. He partnered Balakhnicheva with aplomb, making the central pas de deux a seamless reverie, she lacking just the final ounce of ethereality. This was an impressive performance overall, with admirable care and cohesion displayed by the corps de ballet, and some beautifully danced solos. Would that it had been given to the sound of a live orchestra.

Sandwiched between the two was a slice of Polovtsian ham, the eponymous dances which Diaghilev presented in Paris during his first Saisons Russes in 1909. No-one could claim this is great choreography, but it was given here with such commitment and belief that one could not but be swept up in the glorious ridiculousness of it all. I seriously doubt that the costumes were those as designed originally by Roerich, as claimed, but it was all such a riot of colour, that all resistance was futile.

The Russian Seasons of the XXI Century is not to everyone's tastes and some remain immune to its sometimes tawdry charms, but at least they perform works (or versions, at least) of ballets which formed the prevailing dance aesthetic of the twentieth century. They promise to return next year.

 

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