Posts Tagged ‘Kirov Ballet’

Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Visit to London, July/August 2009

24 August, 2009

St. Petersburg — capital of the Russian Empire for over 200 years since 1713 — is home to the Mariinsky theatre, whose opera and ballet companies date their founding back to Catherine the Great in 1783. The city lost its status after the Russian Revolution, and the theatre lost its name. The previous name honoured a royal patron, and during Soviet times it became the Kirov, honouring a Bolshevik revolutionary. During the last twenty years, however, it has reverted to its old name under music director Valery Gergiev, and stepped more firmly on the international scene. This summer they brought to London the works of some great composers: Wagner’s Ring, and three great full-length ballets (two Tchaikovsky, one Prokofiev), along with a Balanchine triple bill. Perfect. At least it might have been.

They started with the Ring, a terrific undertaking that they galloped through in four consecutive days. No one else does this — other companies insert a day or two of rest in between the four operas — and even the indefatigable Valery Gergiev was tiring towards the end. But it’s not just the music — the whole thing was under-rehearsed, and we were essentially given a dress rehearsal, despite the unusually high ticket prices. Tales of vodka flowing backstage may not have been true, but I wouldn’t blame them if they did take a tipple or two under such pressure.

Wagner’s operas are a new departure for the Mariinsky, but the ballet is a different matter. The three full-length ballets they performed: Romeo and JulietSwan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty are all in their standard repertory. But the productions are from the Soviet era, and the first one in particular is more pantomime than classical ballet, lacking the naturalistic staging that audiences expect and the music demands. The two Tchaikovsky ballets, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty allow more in the way of set dances, and the female solos can be thrilling when danced at speed, but here they were danced at half speed, so that each one became a series of poses. This might work with an audience unused to first-rate ballet, but to one familiar with our own Royal Ballet, it doesn’t work at all. Some soloists seemed to expect stronger applause than they received, and the company continued taking curtain calls at the end while many of the audience left for home. Only the Balanchine programme was successful, but that was because the Balanchine Trust keeps a tight control on the staging and performance. If they dared to do what they did for the Sleeping Beauty under the baton of Pavel Bubelnikov they could well lose their performance rights.

Last year Valery Gergiev conducted Sleeping Beauty in a concert performance at the Proms, and it was simply terrific. He knows very well what it should sound like, and slowing it down for the soloists not only ruins the music, but the solos themselves. If the dancers can’t dance to Tchaikovsky’s music at normal speed then they could do something else — like Don Quixote — that is musically much easier. But it’s not just the solos; the ballet has sublime moments, such as the journey to the sleeping palace, involving no dance, yet they were boringly conducted, and there was no comparison to Gergiev’s concert performance last year at the Proms. Since the great conductor is music director of both opera and ballet he has the clout to change their patterns of behaviour, and make the Mariinsky worthy of its fine pedigree. On present form it is not, and despite some notable individual performances, the overall effect was disappointing. The city of St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great, and he would surely not have put up with companies that ought to be able to compete with the best in the world but fail to do so.

Review of Sleeping Beauty, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

15 August, 2009


What better way to end the Mariinsky Ballet’s tour of London than with this lovely production by Konstantin Sergeyev, with its beautiful sets and costumes by Simon Virsaladze. The corps de ballet danced superbly, Igor Kolb made a very fine prince, and Maxim Zuzin danced delightfully as the bluebird. All might have been well if Pavel Bubelnikov could have done a better job conducting, but the orchestra sounded as if it wasn’t really playing as a team, and each female solo was taken so slowly it became more a sequence of poses than a dance. I’ve never before heard some of Tchaikovsky’s glorious score sound like this, and while the interval timings and the start-time were strictly adhered to, the performance overran by almost twenty minutes. Is no-one in charge of this production? I’ve heard conductors slow down female solos before, because they’ve been asked to by the dancer herself and have entirely overdone it and ruined her solo, but to ruin every female solo in the ballet is extraordinary. Because of this absurd conducting it’s very difficult to judge the many performers, but certainly Evgenia Obraztsova made a poor Princess Aurora, except when partnered by Igor Kolb. In one solo in Act I she was so off the music that she finished it with two bars yet to go. This is a striking difference from her wonderful performance in Spectre de la Rose for the Royal Ballet’s Tribute to Diaghilev in June. It’s difficult to judge the fairy variations in the Prologue when played at this pace, so I’ll say nothing about the performers, but when Ekaterina Kondaurova follows them with the lilac fairy solo the music should lift our spirits. It did nothing of the sort because it sounded like sludge and you simply can’t dance to that — nor could she. The entrance of Islom Baimuradov as Carabosse was not as strong as one might have hoped, and his stage presence seemed a bit weak, but this may be partly due to the production. Out of all the soloists, I thought the Diamond Fairy in Act III did very well — I believe it was Anastasia Petushkova, replacing Irina Golub — but the conducting was a travesty, and it is hardly surprising that the audience was so luke-warm.

As a conductor of both ballet and opera at the Mariinsky, Pavel Bubelnikov is working alongside the opera’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev, whose performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Proms last year was sensational. Bubelnikov may say he’s slowing it down for the dancers, but that won’t wash because in some parts of the score, such as the journey to the enchanted forest, and much of the Rose adagio, there is essentially no dancing, yet they sounded very bland. There was also a production glitch in the journey to the sleeping forest when the barque carrying the prince and the lilac fairy bumped to a sudden halt, so the prince got out, the interior curtain closed and remained closed until the finale of the act. I know that production glitches happen from time to time, but the Mariinsky Ring had far too many of them, and one just has the impression that the stage hands haven’t really got their act together. Pity.

Homage to Balanchine, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

13 August, 2009


In this triple bill the first item was Serenade, to Tchaikovky’s Serenade in C major for strings. It was Balanchine’s first composition in America, which he created at a series of evening classes in New York, and it starts with seventeen girls because that was the number that came to the first class. One girl arrived late, another fell over, and these incidents were incorporated in the ballet. The main couple, Viktoria Tereshkina and Evgeny Ivanchenko, were the principals in Swan Lake last Saturday evening, and here they danced well together, with excellent partnering from Ivanchenko. The other dancers also did a fine job, but while some ballets can be seen with pleasure innumerable times, this, for me, is not one of them, so let us move on to the next item.

Rubies is the second part of a full evening ballet called Jewels, and I’d prefer to see it in context. The music is a Capriccio for piano and orchestra by Stravinsky, and the ballet is a racy piece. The main couple was Irina Golub with Vladimir Shklyarov, who was a fine Romeo on the Mariinsky’s opening night last week. The second woman was Ekaterina Kondaurova, and she and the lead couple take turns to dance with the ensemble. It all worked well enough, but I felt no buzz, and the audience was lukewarm. What really made the evening work, however, was the third item.

Symphony in C. This ballet in four movements is to Bizet’s Symphony No. 1, and is a blaze of action, with colourful tutus for the soloists. It is designed to show off a classical ballet company, and its original title, when Balanchine created it in 1947 in Paris, was Palais de Cristal. In each of the four movements there is a principal couple, two male and two female soloists, and a corps de ballet. At the end all dancers appear in a final tableau. This evening the main couples were Viktoria Tereshkina with Denis Matvienko, Uliana Lopatkina with Daniil Korsuntsev, Elena Evseeva with Filipp Stepin, and Evgenia Obraztsova with Alexei Timofeyev. The soloists were not named. The whole thing went off to great effect, and I thought Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev were outstanding. But to pick out one couple seems unfair when it was such a fine team of dancers, and more musical than anything I have seen so far.

The orchestra was very well conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov, and the piano solo in Rubies was played by Ludmila Sveshnikova. It is good to hear Stravinsky sound like Stravinsky, which has sadly not always been the case with one of the Royal Ballet conductors, and a particularly egregious example occurred in Apollo during a triple bill from March 2007.

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

9 August, 2009


This was a welcome relief from the Mariinsky’s dreadful production of Romeo and Juliet, and the evening belonged to the corps de ballet, which danced magnificently in this 1950 version by Konstantin Sergeyev. Boris Gruzin conducted, giving the dancers the tempos they wanted even though in some cases they were on the slow side. The pas-de-trois in Act I was very well performed by Filipp Stepin, Yana Selina and Valeria Martinyuk, and I thought Stepin was the best male dancer of the evening, musical and with a commanding presence, far better than the prince. Yana Selina was also extremely good, and reappeared in the Neapolitan dance later. Ivan Sitnikov was a commanding presence as von Rothbart, and Viktoria Tereshkina was a fine Odette/Odile, but Evgeny Ivanchenko as her prince was a serious disappointment, insipid, unmusical, and lacking in emotional conviction.

The costumes by Galina Solovyova are magnificent, and the designs by Igor Ivanov work well, except that from the amphitheatre the wheels of the mechanical swans were clearly visible and brightly lit. My only serious complaint about this production is the ubiquitous jester in the court scenes. He was danced by the ungainly Andrei Ivanov, whom I saw doing the same part in Chicago in autumn 2006. Once again he looked terribly pleased with himself, but why does the Mariinsky feel a need to include such a circus act — this is a ballet not a pantomime.

Romeo and Juliet, Maryinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

4 August, 2009


If you love pantomime, you might like this, but to those of us brought up on Kenneth Macmillan’s wonderfully natural interpretation, this old Soviet version lacks dramatic coherence. Acts I and II are a mess, and even in Act III two dancers came into Juliet’s bedroom, after her apparent death, to do a pas-de-deux. Why? The final scene parts company with Shakespeare because Paris does not go to the tomb and get killed in a fight with Romeo, and the solitary nature of Macmillan’s ending is spoiled by the appearance of far too many people arriving on stage. And thinking of Shakespeare, where was the balcony scene? The love duet was just danced on a blank stage with no indication of how they got there. I suppose the Maryinsky is wedded to this old Kirov version, but if they can get rid of the Soviet name for their company — Kirov was a Bolshevik revolutionary — then maybe they can get rid of this ineffective staging. Rather than being a drama, it’s more a masque for dancing, with lots of bright costumes.

As to the dancing itself, the two principals, Alina Somova as Juliet and Vladimir Shklyarov as Romeo gave wonderful interpretations. She was delightful as a playful young girl caught up in events beyond her control, and he was a serious young man, dancing with great agility and panache, albeit not always on the music. I thought Alexander Sergeyev did very well as Mercutio, but found Ilya Kuznetsov quite irritating with his permanent silly smile as Tybalt, adding to the pantomime aspect, but detracting from the drama.

The music was excellently conducted by Covent Garden’s Boris Gruzin with the Maryinsky Theatre Orchestra, but that is not enough to compensate for staging that belongs in the dustbin of Soviet relics.