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