Kirov Ballet

"Jewels" - 'Emeralds', 'Rubies', 'Diamonds'

by Art Priromprintr

October 24 (evening) and October 25, 2003
Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa

It’s hard to resist the temptation to make an allusion to jewels when talking about the Kirov Ballet dancing George Balanchine's "Jewels,", as the company lives up to the ballet's title in so many ways. It is from the dreamy quality of "Emeralds" to the modernity of "Rubies" to the refined classicism of "Diamonds," that really, the temptation begs itself to be made. Oh fine, I give in – each performance was a pure gem.

"Jewels" is a beautiful piece with or without the Kirov. The music chosen is at times sublimely beautiful and at other times incredibly interesting, rhythmically diverse. Considering how closely the choreography is tied to the music, it's a good thing that the music is so fantastic. In "Emeralds," Gabriel Fauré's gorgeous orchestral suites from "Peléas et Mélisande" and "Shylock" are musical bliss especially when paired with Balanchine's elegant choreography. Stravinsky's Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra – the music for "Rubies" – is a marvelous shock juxtaposed against the restrained lyricism of the Faure music. The choreography is a similar contrast – deliciously unconventional and flirtatious, like its score. Then, "Diamonds"' use of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 is the score for a grand homage to Russian classicism: a perfect pairing of the "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" composer with the style of dancing that came from the same theater.

The ballet is a fun piece to watch because it provides what you go to a full-evening ballet for, but without all the excess packaging. There are no long pantomime scenes to sit through, no extended character dances and no story to scratch your head at and wonder if you are following correctly. There's just a lot of beautiful and great dancing – without getting repetitive. It is Balanchine's genius to find three very different things to do with the classical vocabulary for each of the ballet's three sections. The 30-minute pieces are therefore like wonderful pieces of candy. And who doesn't like getting lots of candy?

The Kirov gives good candy in "Jewels." Over the course of three performances this weekend in Orange County, the candy came in the form of soloists and in the corps de ballet. With the corps, it's the same story as it has been for the Kirov's two-week run in Southern California – the corps work was magnificent, making the group a star in its own right. For the soloists, "La Bayadere" and the Fokine Classics program had only given a limited view of the company's wide range of soloists; "Jewels" gives three to four of them at a time, in each of its three segments. Again, more candy.

"Emeralds" was danced by essentially the same cast at each performance – Daria Sukhorukova and Victor Baranov were the first couple; Sofia Gumerova and Andrey Yakovlev the second; and at the two evening performances, Yana Selina, Svetlana Ivanova and Vasily Sherbkov danced the pas de trois (Alesya Novikova and Ruben Bobovnikov substituted for the latter two at the Saturday matinee).

Sukhorukova and Gumerova were both wonderfully light and musical in each of their opening solos, Sukhorukova especially with her arm movements perfectly expressing the quick flourishes of the strings in the music in the first solo (set to the Fileuse from Fauré's "Pelléas et Mélisand"). The two brought a refined elegance to each of their solos, floating above the music with both their delicate pointe work and their ever-present smiles. "Emeralds" was a little rough around the edges on Friday's opening performance in Costa Mesa, but it was a perfect dream on Saturday, with the corps and soloists working together brilliantly for a fantastic effect.

Of the three "Jewels" ballets, "Rubies" possesses the dance style most outside what the Kirov might be used to. And it did indeed look a bit odd on the dancers at times; the piece seems to call for all-out abandonment of any "classical" attitude, asking instead for flirtation and a willingness to have fun. There were times when the corps looked a bit too refined and perfect for "Rubies," but then there were times when everyone really let go – and in these moments, the results were electric. Tatiana Amosova danced the female solo role at each performance; she seemed to be holding back at Friday's performance, but by Saturday evening she was throwing herself into the role very nicely.

The revelation, though, was in two remarkably different, yet both great, interpretations of the main "Rubies" ballerina. On Friday, Diana Vishneva was on fire – her dazzling technique and reckless abandon was thrilling to watch. She also flirted relentlessly with the audience and with her partner – Andrian Fadeyev. She flashed cunning smiles, and seemed to wink knowingly at the audience, as though she was both showing off and relishing in the idea that everyone was watching her. But while Vishneva danced the role as a more mature, flirtatious woman, Irina Golub, on Saturday night, was like a young girl with energy flying out of her from all directions. Golub had the same technical flash as Vishneva, but Golub's personality was completely different. There was playfulness, yes, but it was more innocent and demure. When she did the "jump rope" step in the first movement, Golub was actually jump roping like a young girl – Vishneva, on the other hand, had a self assured smile on her face while she and Fadeyev shot coy glances at each other. Golub's partner was Leonid Sarafanov, and his boyish appearance, plus endless energy, played off Golub's girlishness wonderfully. Both Vishneva's and Golub's individual ways of dancing the role were equally valid and fun to watch; and both were fascinating because they brought a full stage persona to the role. They were interesting to watch as people, not just as technicians – an impressive feat considering there is no plot. Irma Nioradze danced the role at Saturday's matinee; she seemed to be taking the Vishneva route, but she was far less appealing and electric in the role.

"Diamonds" closed the evening in grand Russian style – and, being Russian themselves, the Kirov really knows how it to close it grandly. The first and last movements of the dance showed off how marvelously the corps de ballet works together – the women were lyrical and flowing, moving together with continually impressive unity.

A different pair danced the lead couple at each of the three performances: Friday saw Uliana Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky; Saturday afternoon was danced by Tatiana Tkachenko and Igor Kolb; and Saturday evening was danced by Sofia Gumerov and Igor Zelensky.

Lopatkina was beautiful in the second movement on Friday night, despite a few minor mistakes. She danced lyrically and with passion; each of the movements appeared to have some kind of abstract meaning. It was gorgeous. Zelensky was a strong and able partner, with stunning virtuosity to boot. The audience enthusiastically applauded his solo passages on both Friday and Saturday evenings.

Tatiana Tkachenko, listed in the program as a member of the corps de ballet, was brilliant in the "Diamonds" role on Saturday afternoon. The performance was flawless, and the way her movements were drawn out over the music absolutely breathtaking. She shined here the way she did in the Grand Pas Classique last week in "La Bayadere"; while she had dramatic shortcomings in "Bayadere", those were of little importance here, where all she had to do was show off some shiny dancing. Igor Kolb was her secure partner, and showed he had technical pizzazz in his solo bits. He ended up pushing himself too hard at points, however, falling over himself in a complicated turn just as the audience was beginning to applaud. On Saturday night, Sofia Gumerova worked double duty as both an "Emeralds" soloist and the ballerina in "Diamonds." Beautiful in "Emeralds," she was less impressive in "Diamonds." She had all the steps down and executed them beautifully, but she lacked a flowing lyricism and musicality to her movements. The second movement thus had a somewhat choppy effect, as her dancing did not quite float over the music the way it did with Lopatkina and Tkachenko.

The sets and costumes, credited to Peter Harvey and Karinska respectively, drew loud gasps and awed applause from the audience each time the curtain went up – without fail, at every one of the three performances. The sets and costumes were indeed eye popping and gorgeous. The pattern of swirling gems on the backdrop against the white costumes of "Diamonds" made it look like the ballet was being danced against a starry plain somewhere in heaven – an apt setting.

Mikhail Agrest again conducted the Mariinsky Theatre orchestra to brilliance. Liudmila Sveshnikova gave the Stravinsky Capriccio a powerful reading.

"Jewels" ends the company's performances Southern California. It was a joy to watch the company perform such a varied repertoire during the past two weeks – everything from one of its fabled story ballets, to some reclaimed Fokine, to some newly adopted Balanchine. Hopefully, the Kirov will not wait another 11 years before it visits the West Coast again.

Edited by Catherine Pawlick.

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