Kirov Ballet

'Emeralds,' 'Rubies,' 'Diamonds'

by Catherine Pawlick

October 10, 2003 -- Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA

In allegorical fashion, the Kirov Ballet's glittering rendition of "Jewels" reminded us of the company's prized place in Russian culture Friday night at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. From the cool romanticism of "Emeralds," to the sexy playfulness of "Rubies," and the respectfully ceremonial "Diamonds," these Russian gems dazzled at every turn, reclaiming choreographer George Balanchine for themselves and proving there's no better place for Mr. B's work than on his home turf.

Cities such as New York and Washington , D.C. have been blessed with appearances by the famous ballet troupe as recently as last year. Thus, they've also been treated to Kirov debuts of the Balanchine work more recently than the West Coast has. After an interminable 12 year wait, we're finally again able to feast our eyes on the Kirov Ballet. And it is a repast fit for kings.

Following the grandeur of Fokine repertoire program, "Jewels" greets us with boundless energy, stylistic accuracy and impressive artistry. With a combined score of music from Gabriel Fauré ("Emeralds"), Igor Stravinsky ("Rubies"), and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky ("Diamonds"), the ballet is said to mirror three eras of Balanchine's life: his early days in his home country, his time in New York City, and finally, an ode to Imperial Russia. After seeing the choreography, it is easy to draw the parallels.

The soothing, cool green tones of the "Emeralds" tutus, against a backdrop of delicate romantic movements seems to cross 19th century classicism with Mariinsky schooling, with a sprinkle of Balanchinean movement mixed in. Sofia Gumerova, who replaced Zhanna Ayupova on Friday night, and Daria Sukhurova were the two leading ladies in "Emeralds", both appropriately serene with decorative turns of wrist here and there. Sukhurova is a wispy creature whose long graceful arms spoke through Fauré’s soft calm music -- fluid but accurate. If her facial expressions at times belied self-doubt, her limbs delivered the choreography with an opposing assuredness. She was partnered by the credible Victor Baranov, a dancer of both good proportion and good timing.

Gumerova, however, drew more attention to herself with a no-nerves smile that radiated joy and conviction at every moment. Despite a brief spill on the stage's marley floor, she continued dancing, hanging in the air on several pique attitude turns as if to show she was unscathed. With every subsequent entrance she seemed to merge more with the music, lending a maturity to the steps that offered glimpse of "the ballerina within." Andrey Yakovlev, a blond dancer, supported her walks en pointe, wrists entwined almost in the way that Russians toast each other. Gumerova almost made up for Ayupova's absence from her intended debut in the "Emeralds" role.

The pas de trois in "Emeralds" was danced by Yana Selina, a wide-smiled, ebullient redhead, and Ekaterina Osmolkina, a graceful brunette, both of whom were partnered by the strong Anton Korsakov. Mr. Korsakov's dancing outshone the other men, his beats strong, his partnering secure and his stage presence admirable. One is wont to imagine him in even greater roles. Likewise, Selina was visible no matter her place on stage, mainly due to her expressiveness.

After luxuriating in the green glow of "Emeralds," when the curtain rose on "Rubies" we were met with the very embodiment of panache: the famous Diana Vishneva, partnered by Leonid Sarafanov. Robed in the briefest of requisite "Rubies" costumes with a saucy, sexy temperament to match, Vishneva gave a no-holds barred rendition of the rouge-colored gem's choreography at its best. From swiveling hips and high battements to elastic extensions in every direction, Vishneva demonstrated the capabilities of the -- in this case very unique -- human body.

Suggestive of the freedom, speed and earthiness of New York City, "Rubies" presents the elements of an America most of us can relate to -- only in upscale balletic fashion with touches of almost-Broadway stances and glances. From jumping rope movements and Wild West hitch steps to languorous arm motions, the message is clearly American à la Hollywood. At more than one point Vishneva suggested a pouty sex-kitten, teasing the audience, but then turning around to give them even more.

Complementing Vishneva, Sarafanov approached both his partnering and his solo work with boundless energy and genuine joy. The two ended their pas de deux with knowing glances -- and more than one set of audience-induced bows.

The evening's majesty was crowned by Daria Pavlenko and Danila Korsuntsev's luminous rendition of "Diamonds" as the curtain rose for the third time. More than one audience member was heard to comment afterwards on the exquisite beauty and mature delivery of Pavlenko, to say nothing of her perfectly Kirov-ian lines. More than one audience member was also rendered speechless by the artistry of the young dancer. She was the incarnation of royal blood, the ballerina's ballerina: radiant, certain, perfect. With nary a misstep, Pavlenko carried herself regally but performed emotionally, her secure smile bringing even more grace to her role. Pavlenko's slender arms and legs make her every line a pleasure to regard, and her ability to make the choreography her own is a valuable talent that is already visible. Of note, too, is the dancer's young age: at a mere 24 she is dancing principal roles unblemished. Vishneva, it seems, has some serious competition.

Pavlenko was complemented by the tall, princely Korsuntsev, who must be commended both for his partnering and his ability to move his more-than-six-foot frame across the stage with such power. As a tall dancer he is no doubt challenged by his height in certain roles, but in "Diamonds" his size offered a nice setting in which the shining Pavlenko sparkled. Given the audience's standing ovation at the end of Friday night's opening, it would be safe to say that "Jewels" is a gem to look forward to.

While the saying "worth the wait" sounds mundane, after such a long hiatus we've been gifted with a return unspeakably grandiose and, in the case of "Jewels," incredibly dazzling.

Maestro Gergiev was sadly missing from the orchestra pit for this remarkable premiere, but Mikhail Agrest conducted admirably. With programs like these, more than one ballet fan will be hoping for the Kirov's quick return to the Bay Area.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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