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Kirov’s Spirited Nymphs, Swans Shimmer in Classic Ballet Briefs

This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on April 10, 2008.

April 10 (Bloomberg) — Ethereal spirits of the wood, dream visions of love, luscious adulterers and a tragically expiring swan — the Kirov Ballet can offer them all in a one-man show.

The company’s second program — in an engagement that runs through April 20 at New York’s City Center — offered four key ballets from the early 20th century by Michel Fokine. The choreographer was a neo-Romantic reformer who countered the diamantine brilliance of the 19th-century master Marius Petipa with a pearly glow.
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Members of the Kirov Ballet perform Mikhail Fokine’s “Chopiniana” at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Jan. 10, 2005. Kirov Ballet will be performing at New York’s City Center through April 20, 2008. Source: Mariinsky Theatre via Bloomberg News

“Chopiniana” (aka “Les Sylphides”) depicts a musing poet’s encounter with a flock of gauzy apparitions in a moonlit glade. It is the loveliest of the Kirov’s presentations so far. The female corps de ballet and three soloists seemed to be buoyed into the air on their own breath or wafted side to side by an errant breeze. Their feet touched the ground as softly as cats’ paws. The prevalent mood was not spooky, as in most renderings, but one of gentle delight.

In the ballet’s only male role, Anton Korsakov offered beautifully measured dancing yet couldn’t project the inspiration the poet is presumably feeling. Ekaterina Osmolkina, in the variation of surging cross-stage leaps and in the pas de deux, was perfection.

Commanding Technique

“Le Spectre de la Rose” showcases a male virtuoso who embodies the spirit of a rose in full bloom, awakening a virginal young woman to love’s sensual pleasures. The role was made for Vaslav Nijinsky; the only dancer I’ve ever seen get the upper hand of its bravura feats (and petal-garnished costume) was the Kirov-trained Mikhail Baryshnikov. Though the young Leonid Sarafanov commands the technique for the assignment, not one of the three dancers I saw captured the tendril quality of the wreathing arms and the figure’s creaturely nature.

Fokine created “The Dying Swan” for Anna Pavlova, who made the brief solo her signature piece. Today, depending on the performer, the avian death throes can look hackneyed or convey something basic and poignant about the human condition.
Alternating in the role, both Uliana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva did creditable jobs. All fragility and jagged angles that expressed pain, Lopatkina was essentially pictorial. Working from the inside out, Vishneva was the more convincing. After witnessing her visceral interpretation, it should be hard for the viewer to remain indifferent to the corpse of even of the most insignificant sparrow lying on the pavement.

Favorite Wife
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Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 15, 2006. Kirov Ballet will be performing at New York’s City Center through April 20, 2008. Source: Mariinsky Theatre via Bloomberg News

Vishneva and Lopatkina alternated again as the Shah’s favorite wife in “Scheherazade,” an over-the-top extravaganza that mates sex with danger in an exotic locale. Lopatkina attempted a Stanislavskian job, at first canoodling with the Shah like a sex kitten, yet intermittently revealing her discontent with her master.

Vishneva threw herself into the melodramatic proceedings body and soul, especially in the long duet with her underclass lover, the Golden Slave, which seems to be all coital undulating. Though the prolonged orgy inevitably grows tedious, the fabulous Leon Bakst-derived costumes always gave the enthusiastic audience something terrific to ogle.

Following the Fokine showings, the Kirov returned to its display of the Petipa tradition — unfortunately offering three flashy pas de deux in succession. The tactic may wow the crowd, but it undermines the art. Still, Victoria Tereshkina made all tawdriness vanish with her clear, bold, unaffected dancing; Balanchine would have loved her. Another consolation was the presence of Ekaterina Kondaurova, whose dancing, like her appearance — very tall, very slender, her aristocratic face capped with gleaming, copper-colored hair — is the epitome of elegance and sophistication.

Through April 20 at City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.nycitycenter.org.

© 2008 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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