Kirov Ballet

Homage to Diaghilev: 'Chopiniana,' 'Les Noces,' 'Scheherazade'

by Stuart Sweeney

July 30, 2003 -- Royal Opera House, London, UK

The Wednesday matinee performance of the Kirov Ballet's Homage to Diaghilev proved more enjoyable than my visit on Monday. As usual, performance quality was higher than on the first night and a central seat was a great advantage for the first two works.

In particular, the exquisite patterns of "Chopiniana" showed up clearly. The sets remind me of Watteau, and combined with the return to the ballet aesthetic of the Romantic era this may seem a strange way to greet the 20th century. However, it did represent a break from the late-19th century spectaculars of Petipa and others and the lack of narrative heralded a new approach. The corps de ballet was the star of this performance, perfectly executing Fokine's lines and clusters. The female soloists blended with the style of the corps and Igor Kolb brought a fresh energy to the role of the Poet.

"Les Noces" was more satisfying this time. The first night nerves were mostly gone and the ensemble dances better synchronised. The orchestra and soloists, especially the men, gave an excellent concert performance, but I wonder how much account conductor Mikhail Agrest takes of the needs of the dancers.

The triangle of girls at the end of the first scene needs to be clearer. The Bride has her head to one side rather than in the central position, which I prefer, of the Royal Ballet version. However, given that Nijinska constantly changed her ballets, both are likely to be "authentic" versions.

Overall, Alexandra Iosifidi was impressive as the Bride, and there was a notable coup de theatre at the end of the third tableau when she and her Mother break their rigid self-discipline to lunge out to each other in despair; the separation across half the stage symbolising their loss. The group dances for the girls had an exciting snap and Elena Sheshina kicked up her heels briskly in the short solos. However, there was greater variability among the men. Some have managed to instill the robust movement required, while others still seemed to be wondering what they were doing there. The wedding scene had great power, with the unhappy acceptance of the bridal couple contrasting with the celebrations of the corps. The unfolding of the final tableau was very beautiful and raised some gasps around me.

In an interview with John Drummond, Ninette de Valois spoke of her time with Diaghilev, "I got a tremendous thrill from 'Les Noces'....one of the greatest ballets still that has ever been produced." It remains a thrilling work and, with its unique combination of ballet, folk and early modern dance, a vibrant reminder of the explosion of creativity in the 1920s, before the heavy hand of dictatorship swept away so much of the avant-garde across Europe. I hope "Les Noces" remains a regular in the Kirov
rep, so that the company can fully absorb the distinctive style required.

Kirov has performed "Schéhérazade" for nine years and they dance it with great conviction. It's unusual for a ballet to be so unashamedly about sensuality and greed in a variety of forms. I always give myself up to its delicious kitsch and put aside all concerns for political correctness. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance says its, "·exoticism and sexuality seem, inevitably, rather tame to modern audiences." Well, this ballet fan respectfully disagrees.

I love the quick, high stepping movement of the girls and the servants and the sinuous back bends of the Odalisques in fetching pink. Vladimir Ponomarev as the Sultan anchored the performance with his powerful characterisation of an absolute ruler, but the heart of the work is the relationship between Zobeide and the Golden Slave. Tatiana Tkachenko is only three years out of the
Vaganova Academy , but painted a clear picture of a manipulative and passionate woman; you don't get to be first choice in the harem by being a dab hand at scrabble. She danced with musicality, if not quite the flexibility of some others I have seen. She controlled the Golden Slave completely and made sense of the final scene as she almost succeeds in recapturing the Sultan's heart and finally chooses to kill herself.

Beforehand, I thought Daniil Kosuntsev an unlikely Golden Slave, but he is big and beautiful and it was understandable that Zobeide was smitten and visa versa. If he was short on sensuality, his high jumps and soft landings were spectacular.

The orchestra again gave a fine performance of the wonderful tunes that appeal to so many from childhood onwards. In particular, the solo violin, presumably from the Leader, Ludmilla Tchaikovskaya, gave a poignant interpretation and the music accompanying the orgiastic banquet scene set my heart racing.

For variety and overall dance standards this programme lived up to my high expectations. However,
London audiences do not flock to triple bills and it has proved the least popular of the Kirov programmes this year. I hope this doesn't have an impact on programming for future tours.

Edited by Catherine Pawlick.

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