The Kirov Ballet

"Serenade", "Rite of Spring", "Etudes"

by Cassandra

August 5th, 2003 -- Royal Opera House, London


Themed titles can be silly or irrelevant, but this programme's name, "Contrasts", reflected the different styles and themes of the three works on show.

Iím never sure whether the Kirov dancers dance "Serenade" so well because of their respect for Balanchine or because the music is by Tchaikovsky. I always get the feeling that once they hear a few bars of Pyotr Ilych they lapse into super-lyrical mode like a form of automatic pilot. Iíve seen a number of companies dance this ballet but no one else performs it as beautifully as the Kirov, their dancers always bring an added depth of meaning to a ballet that is strictly speaking abstract.

"Rite of Spring" (drawing above by Millicent Hodson) was a perplexing experience: I began thinking about the Russian spring, which arrives late compared to the rest of Europe, just as the Russian autumn comes early. Both seasons happen in a flash and spring is quite violent in its haste with snow and ice melting almost overnight producing torrents of water swelling the rivers. This inspired Rachmaninov to write his "Spring Waters", now appropriated for a virtuosic pas de deux, but for Stravinsky the experience of spring was more atavistic in its intensity and his resulting Rite of Spring remains one of the most extraordinary pieces of music in existence.

The ballet has been choreographed in many different ways, from MacMillanís massed ranks of aborigines to Bejartís sixties sex-fest, but it was Nijinskyís representation of early Russian peasantry that first set the ball rolling and that is what we imagine we saw last night. But the critics are not convinced and neither am I. That this ballet was scrupulously researched Iíve no doubt, but too many aspects of this reconstruction simply donít ring true for me. The first shock was how much of the music is used as an overture and later for a scene change, valuable dancing time being lost in fact. Perhaps this was exactly how Nijinsky wanted it, but it seems a waste. Whole tracts of music seem disregarded in the relentless shuffling and if this is how Nijinsky imagined it, then his imagination was limited.

All the same, I enjoyed seeing this approximation of such a historically important work and the sets and costumes were a fascinating reminder of the historic images of the Ballet Russe. Whether what I saw was what caused all that fuss at the Chatelet Theatre all those years ago, I donít know, but Iíve a feeling this wonít survive as a repertory staple.

Seeing "Etudes" last night reminded me of how much affection I have for this ballet. Iím not alone, as the Royal Ballet dancer I was sitting with told me he also loves "Etudes". After the Kirov Ballet premiered the work in April, it wasnít danced again until the performance on Monday, which was described to me as a bit of a shambles. However, at the third attempt it seemed to be shaping up fairly well. I can see why this ballet appeared an attractive acquisition, as it is a fantastic showcase for that famous Kirov corps and they were very clearly the stars yesterday evening. The three principals fared less well, but Andrian Fadeyev came closest to an understanding of the ballets pace where timing is everything.

Leonid Sarafanov could almost be mistaken for Fadeyevís younger brother on stage and they made a well matched pair, his much admired technique is impressive by the standard of today, but I missed the flickering feet of a dancer of the calibre of say, Patrice Bart or Neils Kehlet in the role. As the ballerina, the whippet thin Zakharova also danced with ťlan but she lacks the ďBallerina MannerĒ, a quality so difficult to define but instantly recognized when you see it.


Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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