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Kirov Ballet's "Jewels" and "Sleeping Beauty"
London, June 25, 2000

by Kevin Ng

The first week of the Kirov Ballet's season at Covent Garden culminated in its third programme on Friday - Balanchine's three-act abstract ballet "Jewels" (1967) which the Kirov actually premiered in St. Petersburg last October. The beautiful original costumes by Karinska and the gorgeous original sets have been faithfully reproduced, and this Balanchine ballet was staged for the Kirov by Karin von Aroldingen and three other ex-New York City Ballet dancers.


In the first act "Emeralds", right from the beginning there was a palpable freshness and vibrancy in the corps de ballet's dancing which was so exciting to watch. Balanchine was well-known for his fondness of casting young dancers in the lead roles of his ballets, an admirable practice now being followed at the Kirov. Stunning was the 19-year-old Veronika Part as one of the two female soloists. Part's youthfulness and luscious dancing was a joy. Her cavalier was the tall 18-year-old Dmitry Simeonov who just graduated last year from the Vaganova Academy. The other couple was Zhanna Ayupova, who looked totally transformed from her rather lacklustre Aurora on Thursday afternoon, and the elegant Nikolai Godunov.

Excitement continued to mount in "Rubies", which was given a glorious performance abounding in raw energy. The stellar Diana Vishneva, the first-cast Aurora on Monday, gave an electrifying performance that brought the house down. Her sky-high extensions and loose hip joints were breathtaking. The danseur was Viacheslav Samodurov who dazzled in this virtuosic role which Balanchine created for Edward Villela. In this ballet, the Kirov dancers showed clearly that they have become acclimatised to Balanchine's 20th century classicism which after all was a logical extension of their 19th century classicism. The other soloist was Maya Dumchenko, executing with wit her difficult series of flat-foot arabesques penchees.

However I was slightly less impressed by their rendition of the final act "Diamonds". The tempo was on the slow side in the climactic finale. I haven't seen Suzanne Farrell in this ballerina role with the New York City Ballet, but my memory of this ballet has been shaped by the divine Kyra Nichols as the ballerina whom I saw a number of times in New York in the past decade. The tall Kirov ballerina Uliana Lopatkina has an awesome technique, especially in the amazing power of her legs in adagio, and in her rock solid balances on pointe. However she lacked expressiveness. Igor Zelensky was her splendid partner. Towards the end of the ballet, it was unforgettable to see him execute his well-centred multiple pirouttes sur place at such speed.

Still this Balanchine evening had a sense of occasion, and being present one felt as if one was witnessing a significant moment in dance history. All credit to the Kirov director Makhar Vaziev for bringing this and other Balanchine ballets into the Kirov's repertory.


Sleeping Beauty

The week commenced with the Kirov's 1890 version of "The Sleeping Beauty", which was premiered in St. Petersburg in April 1999 and was enthusiastically received in New York last summer during the company's tour. Makhar Vaziev engaged the Kirov ballet master and dancer Sergei Vikharev to reconstruct Petipa's original choreography as recorded by Nicholas Sergeyev, the regisseur of the Imperial Theatre, based on the Stepanov notation system. Sergeyev's manuscripts are now housed in thr Harvard Theater Collection, and are the main source of this Kirov revival. The sets have been reproduced by Andrei Voitenko from the original designs in the St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Musical Arts, and the original lavish costumes by Ivan Vsevolozhsky have been reproduced by Elena Zaitseva.

The result was a consummate experience, a glorious feast for the eye in terms of dancing and the stage picture much enhanced by the lavish costumes and sets. Every part can now be seen in its proper scale. I think that this Kirov 1890 "Sleeping Beauty" should now be the definitive production, with no disrespect to the Royal Ballet's 1946 production which has been the touchstone of this classic in the West. Petipa's masterpiece at last can be seen in its full splendour.

Highlights of this 1890 choreographic text

Among my happy discoveries from this new Kirov production is the Prologue solo danced in pointe shoes by the Lilac Fairy who however wears character shoes when she sends the whole court to sleep at the end of Act 1. There is an extended mime scene in the beginning of Act 1 in which the King finally spares the lives of the knitting women. The Act 1 garland waltz, complete with students of the Vaganova Academy making their historic first appearance in London together with the Kirov Ballet, is a masterpiece of harmony.

Early in Act 2 there is a delightful Farandole for the peasants. And I like the part which sees Aurora balancing on a hidden toe-hole in a sea shell like Venus in Botticelli's painting. At the end of this act the Lilac Fairy has a mime scene in which she explains to Aurora and the King and Queen their awakening by Prince Desire, which is missing in other productions. In Act 3, the Cinderella divertissement (danced only on opening night and cut in the three other performances)is delightful. And above all the final apotheosis in the final act with the golden backdrop of Apollo and his steeds is dazzling.

Main roles in the four different casts

I saw all the four performances of this new "Beauty" that week. I don't experience such balletomania with other ballet companies, but these unique Kirov dancers have constantly renewed my passion in ballet. Diana Vishneva, the first night's Aurora, has a ravishing beauty and radiance. Replacing Altynai Asylmuratova on Thursday night, she was more radiant still, when partnered by Andrian Fadeyev. That afternoon, Aurora was danced by senior ballerina Zhanna Ayupova who has lost some of her old physical powers since I last saw her in the Kirov's "Nutcracker" in London in 1996. Svetlana Zakharova, the second-cast Aurora, has an unmistakable star quality a la Sylvie Guillem.

As Vishneva's Prince, I found Igor Zelensky's dancing rather indifferent. Igor Kolb on the second night was preferable to the 20-year-old Anton Korsakov who looked slightly inexperienced. The finest Prince Desire was the handsome Andrian Fadeyev, an impeccable danseur with an innate nobility and a pure classical style.

Veronika Part was the most satisfying Lilac Fairy among the three casts. The King and Queen were admirably danced at every performance by Vladimir Ponomarev and Nina Borchenko. It must be said that the mime scenes were admirably done with proper weight by the Kirov dancers. Islom Baimuradov and Igor Petrov were both superb as Carabosse.

Kirov Postscript, August 2000
By Kevin Ng

In the Kirov's second summer season at Covent Garden in August, there were five more performances of this sumptuous production of "The Sleeping Beauty". The biggest disappointment this time however was that the young dancers in the ballet were not performed by the students from the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg as in June, but instead by students drawn from the Royal Ballet School and the Central Ballet School in London. That certainly made a difference in the Act 1 garland waltz, as the English students lacked the artistic excellence and discipline of the Vaganova students.

The opening night was significant, as Aurora was danced by Altynai Asylmuratova who was possibly making her last appearance in this great ballerina role, due to her taking over as the director of the Vaganova Academy next season. It was a nostalgic occasion. Asylmuratova, London's favourite Kirov ballerina, received prolonged curtain calls at the end. However I was not as moved by her Aurora as I had expected, remembering her lustrous performance with the Kirov during its last
London tour in 1997.

Having seen Asylmuratova since 1988 when she first appeared in London with the Kirov, I just did not feel that this was one of her greatest performances. She relied slightly too much on her facial expressions -- after all she still has a most beautiful face and a gorgeous smile -- that she even seemed to me to be slightly coquettish at times. Perhaps she was trying to make up for her declining technical strength.

Her Prince Desire was the young pure classicist Andrian Fadeyev who partnered her admirably as well as holding his own. Fadeyev was actually better matched later on that week with Maya Dumchenko. Dumchenko, a fine-boned young ballerina, was a delectable Aurora.

Another glamorous young leading couple that week -- and what an abundance of talent in the twenties the Kirov has in its top ranks -- was Diana Vishneva and Igor Kolb. Vishneva repeated her exquisite performance which I had praised in June. Kolb was a fine stylist.

Possibly the most special Aurora this season was Zhanna Ayupova, who was in far better form than last time. Her pure dancing had harmony and poise, every facet of her performance was perfectly proportioned. Ayupova's Aurora radiated an inner calm that was like a religious blessing. Her Prince was the extremely talented 20-year-old Anton Korsakov who has improved markedly since his attempt in this role in June. In his Act 3 solo, he finished all his double tours en l'air in a clean fifth position.

Korsakov also dazzled as the Bluebird earlier that week, partnering the gorgeous Natalia Sologub whose Florine was delightfully sharp and precise. Another stylish Florine was Svetlana Ivanova, whose extra thin legs complimented her fine-boned physique. Veronika Part and Daria Pavlenko both did honours to the Lilac Fairy.

As for the character dancing, Vladimir Ponomarev and Islom Baimuradov repeated their fine portrayals of King Florestan and Carabosse, and Elena Bazhenova was a beautiful Queen.

It was really a boon to be able to renew acquaintance with this definitive Kirov production of "The Sleeping Beauty" so soon, and each repeated viewing never ceased to yield its own rewards.


Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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