The Kirov's Dramatic Balanchine


(photo of “Rubies” by Andrea Mohin, NYTimes).

Russians are such great dramatists; they make everything they can out of everything they do, and the effect is so moving, so exciting. Yesterday marked the end of the Kirov Ballet‘s 3-week stay in New York. They left on a huge bang, performing three of George Balanchine’s most revered works: the beautiful “Serenade,” the first ballet Balanchine made after his emigration from Russia to the U.S.; “Rubies”, Balanchine’s tribute to American-style ballet; and “Ballet Imperial,” his homage to the grand ballet traditions of Imperial Russia.

Probably because of the trial, stupidly, I got a bit teary-eyed after “Serenade” (the only time I’ve ever cried during a dance performance was seeing Alvin Ailey’s Revelations not long after 9/11; I’m not a crier … I do wonder what Serenade would look like on Ailey. Hmmm. I don’t think that company has enough women though…).

I’ve written about this ballet before, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it so dramatic, so acted. Balanchine famously created it as practice for his students, and as it took shape it evolved into this beautifully poetic work. Costumed in sky blue, diaphonous, floor-length gowns, the “students” become angelic creatures as they proceed from parallel-footed to turned-out position, and practice leg work, then port de bras. Though one of Balanchine’s many story-less ballets, you still sense a narrative there, and these dancers locate it and tell it to its fullest. When a student arrived to class late, Balanchine worked that into his choreography. But this student, Victoria Tereshkina, doesn’t just run into the midst of things and take her position; she’s late for a reason. She’s very distressed, very emotionally shorn. Perhaps she’s just been in a horrible fight with someone, a lover? She tries to work through her pain during practice, but it’s no use, until a male dancer, Yevgeny Ivanchenko, arrives and takes her out of her pain for a time as they waltz around the floor.

She gets so caught up in him that after he leaves, upon exiting the stage behind the other students, she faints, falling to the ground in a dramatic heap. Interestingly, here is where, when the New York City Ballet performs this ballet, the ballerina lets her hair down, her long (usually blonde) flowing hair now lying in a pool around her. When other ballerinas enter stage, they now have their hair down as well. To me, this signfies the “ballet class” portion of the ballet is over and the real drama has begun. But here, all of the ballerinas kept their hair in taut buns.

The “dark angel” enters, her hands firmly clasped over the eyes of the male dancer in front of her — the character who I’ve always called “blind justice” but who here is called “Elegia,” who makes his way to the fallen girl, to rescue her soul, which, by the end, he does. Ekaterina Kondaurova was breathtakingly beautiful, and full of mystery, as the dark angel, and Alexander Sergeev (who performed in just about every piece I saw both by the Kirov and in Diana Vishneva’s “Beauty in Motion” program) danced with great sensitivity and understated pathos.

Next on was “Rubies” (pictured at the top of the post), Balanchine’s homage to what he viewed as the America dance tradition, with all of its jazziness and sass and show-girl-esque charm. I’ve written about that ballet in detail here. I LOVED Olesia Novikova, who danced the female lead of the main pas de deux, not so much with flirtatious sexiness — that was left to Ekaterina Kondaurova as the main vixen-esque ballerina — but more with cute, charming playfulness. She and her beau, Vladimir Shklyarov, equally playful, acted off of each other, regarding each other quizzically, mischievously, tapping each other on the shoulder, before launching into their competing solos. Kondaurova also played off of the actions of her ‘men-servants’ as one of four danseurs surrounding her lifted her leg into a lovely arabesque from behind, causing her to bend down, her chin nearly falling into the palm of another man, facing her and down on one knee ready to receive her blessing. But the way she looked at him, her eyes harsh and squinting, you didn’t want to be that man! And yet it was cute, it made everyone laugh.

I just love how these dancers gave everything they did a reason; though these are all story-less ballets, the intentions behind the dancers’ eyes, their focused gazes, drew you in to their world and brought that ballet to life.

Last on was “Ballet Imperial,” which I’ve written about here. I realize this is one of Balanchine’s masterpieces, but for some reason, it’s never done a whole lot for me. As a tribute to the grand balletic traditions of his homeland, I much prefer the “Diamonds” part of “Jewels.” Ballet Imperial is very pretty though. It was supposed to be danced here by prima ballerina Diana Vishneva, but for reasons not explained to us, was danced instead by Uliana Lopatkina (correction: it was Alina Somova — thanks Susan!), whom I thought turned out to be just radiant. I didn’t mind not seeing Vishneva, since she’s also a principal with American Ballet Theater, so I can see her all summer long (plus, I had errands to run afterward and didn’t have the time for a 10-hour curtain call :) ), but there were a great many “ooooooh nooooo’s” in the audience at the substitution announcement. I felt badly for Somova — how’s that for a welcome?!

Anyway, I will miss the Kirov. They brought Balanchine to life for me and gave me a chance to see a full evening of works by American expatriate, William Forsythe. I hope they return to NY frequently.

10 Comments

  1. I had just the opposite feeling about the Kirov SERENADE which I saw last Friday. I’ve never seen a ‘happier’ version of the ballet – so many smiles onstage – and one in which the drama and the darker colours of the piece were so played down. It was very well-danced but lacking in the nuances that NYCB brings to it. But you had different leading dancers and that may have made all the difference.

    I had Tereshkina in BALLET IMPERIAL and it was one of the most gorgeous balletic interpretations I’ve seen…ever!

  2. All summer long is two performances of Vishneva I think, but the point is well taken.

    I loved Viktoria Tershkina last week. She a keeper.

    Wouldn’t it be great to see the whole Kirov on a big stage with 2x the corps?

  3. Tonya, Serenade brought me to tears too. I was truly overcome by the beauty of it. The only other time that happened to me was seeing Giselle with Cojocaru and Kobborg. Sniffle.

  4. Hi Tonya, If you were at the Sunday matinee that was Alina Somova who subbed for Vishneva in Ballet Imperial (bottle blonde hair badly in need of a touch up), not Lopatkina (also tall & thin with very long arms & very dark hair). Lopatkina did it at the Saturday night performance. For me, Sunday’s BI was not an inspired one, but I did love Tereshkina’s Serenade. It was much less ‘sunny” than the opening night performance Philip & I saw, but still sunnier than NYCB’s version. It was different, but in this particular performance the soloists were all great individually & very well matched – I thought it was very beautiful.

  5. Thanks Susan! (I made the correction). I thought it was interesting how you guys were going on about Lopatkina on Philip’s blog because I thought this dancer was sweet but not overwhelming wonderful, but now I know I had the wrong dancer! So, I haven’t seen Lopatkina then. I hope they return; I only got to go to two programs and I would really have liked to have seen more.

    Barbara, did you get a chance to see the Alvin Ailey exhibit?

  6. So you know where (online?) there is a current company roster? The most recent one is from like 2005.

  7. Hi Selly — annoyingly, it seems to be down for the time being. I’d originally found the roster of dancers that I linked to in an earlier post by looking up the Mariinsky; I think the website was http://www.mariinsky.ru — but I just looked there and they’re saying “an internal error occurred, yadda yadda, so I just linked to the Kirov’s website, which apparently is older. Does anyone else have any better info?

  8. The site is up now, and it’s up to date. I can tell because Tereshkina was only promoted to principal dancer a few weeks ago, and they also list a lot of new corrphees that we just saw in NY – like Cheprasova and Shirrinkina. The link is

    http://www.mariinsky.ru/en/ballet/soloist

  9. I was able to look at the roster thru the mariinsky website. Maybe it was just down at the moment you logged in.

    No, unfortunately we didn’t get to the Ailey exhibit. We had an errand to run after the ballet and then decided we were tuckered out and needed to get back on the road home. I’ll be back in the city Fri evening for one of the Tribeca films so maybe we’ll try then.

  10. Thanks for the help. Either the dancer I was looking for has changed her last name, or a certain person that I, ahem, “know” was spreading some false information.

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