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Swan Lake.

Is it really possible, in 1995, for the myth to persist that Russia and ballet are not only synonymous but superior? Given the sold-out houses at the Metropolitan Opera House during the Kirov Ballet's two-week visit this summer, June 19 to July 1, it apparently is. No one begrudges the company enthusiastic audiences, but did those dance-goers also see American Ballet Theatre in its season at the Met immediately prior to the Kirov's, or New York City Ballet across Lincoln Center Plaza? They would have seen superior repertory and consistently better dancing from both local companies. How long will it take American audiences to recognize and acknowledge the extraordinary talent of their own ballet?

What the Kirov brought to New York was a company of radically varying talents and a conservative bill of fare; the most up-to-date work was director Oleg Vinogradov's charmless Cinderella, a 1994 reworking of a ballet he first staged thirty years earlier. There was also a dramatically incomprehensible Swan Lake and a mixed bill, titled "Les Saisons Russes" ("Russian Seasons"), which included Michel Fokine's Chopiniana, Scheherazade and The Firebird. The latter two ballets were revived for the company by Fokine's American-born granddaughter, Isabelle Fokine, with Russian dancer Andris Liepa, who took responsibility for production. Advance press championed the authenticity of these productions, which the Kirov was bringing "to the West in their original form for the first time." It didn't seem to matter that Scheherazade and The Firebird were created by Fokine in 1910 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, a company that never performed in Russia. Nor did this hype acknowledge that Fokine set these works on other companies in the West from 1918 until his death in 1942.

The mixed program opened with the Kirov Ballet Orchestra playing Chopin's "Military" polonaise before a front curtain spelling out "Les Saisons Russes" with figures dressed in costumes designed by Leon Bakst. As the music concluded, the curtain rose on a Chopiniona bathed in the rosy light of dawn rather than the familiar moonlight. The Kirov's dancing of this piece failed to illuminate the exquisite detail of its form. The moribund pace of the orchestra (conducted on opening night by Alexei Tifov) drained vitality from the corps, although both Zhanna Ayupova and Irina Zhelonkina breathed life into their respective performances of the Mazurka. Both Victor Baranov and Stanislav Belyaevsky, as the Young Man in different casts, seemed intent on forcing their legs ever higher into arabesque instead of emphasizing the relationship of the dance to the music.

Today Schihirazade fails even as camp. The company's ballerinas had a field day vamping as the haughty Zobeide, but Farouk Ruzimatov was the only Golden Slave who came close to the pantherine quality of Nijinsky legend. The set appeared to be a reasonable facsimile of Bakst's, but liberties were taken with Zobeide's costume, each dancer apparently choosing her own design. As for the dancing, at one moment Zobeide and the Slave were passionately pawing each other; the next, they skipped forward and back, as if in a plastique exercise. Edwin Denby wrote about Scheherazade in 1944, that "there is no dance form, nothing for them to do as dancers. There is only miming and hubbub, and that doesn't keep for thirty years." Nor for another fifty-one. Despite its luscious Stravinsky score, the dancing in The Firebird, except for the title character's, is almost always disappointing. In an attempt to make the maiden and monster dances naturalistic, Fokine made them boring. In this production the evil sorcerer Kashchei, danced alternately by Vladimir Ponomarev and Roman Skripkin, looked like a German expressionist figure of Death, and his monsters, male and female, were rather nondescript in raggedy costumes nothing like the original Alexander Golovin designs upon which they were supposedly based. Altynai Asylmuratova was a lustrous Firebird, as was Tatiana Amosova, with her breathtaking leaps. Tatiana Serova mistook brusqueness for a birdlike quality. Liepa enacted Ivan Tsarevich with appropriate dignity.

Vinogradov, who has introduced exquisite ballets by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor into the Kirov repertory, is himself only a choreographer of limited vision. His fiddling with the first and last acts of Swan Lake diminishes the dramatic integrity of the ballet by eliminating essential narrative details. The Queen never actually tells her son that he is to be married, so there is no motivation for the Prince's pervasive pensiveness. These omissions might work if Vinogradov replaced them with poetic imagery in the dancing. He doesn't. There is nothing to challenge and excite the dancers artistically; he simply manipulates lines traveling on and off the stage. The Court Jester, Vyacheslav Samodurov, turning and cavorting like a pesky mosquito, is the closest thing to a focal point in the first act. In Act IV, the opening dance counterposes a corps in maroon with one in white in interlacing lines. The reunion of Siegfried and Odette is interrupted by their simultaneous solos on opposite sides of the stage. Bathed in red spotlights (a device overused at the Kirov), they seem to be offering soliloquies on their tragic predicament. The conclusion of the ballet, oblivious to Tchaikovsky's passionate climax, has Siegfried die on the ground, Rothbart jump into the lake, and Odette exit stage left. So much for poetry.

Acts II and III give the company an opportunity to break through an unnerving lack of immediacy in their dancing. In the second act the corps asserted that sublime unity of motion expected from that magical sequence, and in the character dances of Act Ill the company exhibited a vibrancy lacking elsewhere. Of Swan Queens, there were plenty. Vinogradov is nurturing a crop of tall, thin, elegant, long-limbed beauties--Uliana Lopatkina, Yulia Makhalina, and Anastasia Volochkova. They can do some wondrous dancing, but what they do often appears episodic rather than continuous. They are young. All the ballerinas took their fouettes at a comically accelerated pace except for Lopatkina. In her Odette-Odile one could feel the transition to a fuller, more integrated performance. And there was greater maturity yet in Asylmuratova's modulated portrayal.

What seriously diminished this Swan Lake was a deficit of princes. The leading men were uniformly dreadful, lacking clarity in line as well as precisidn and detail in their feet and legs. They had difficulty getting into the air and preparations for turns seemed endless. Baronov, who dances with some finesse, tastelessly left his Odile to take her bows by herself after the third act adagio while he made for the wings to prepare for his solo. Then he took forever before each entrance. Didn't Fokine have something to say, many years ago, about the dramatic integrity of a ballet?

The weaknesses in Sergei Prokofiev's score sabotage most productions of Cinderella, but Vinogradov's vision of this fairy tale has its own problems. Again, he omits narrative details: there is no pumpkin; Cinderella leaves for the ball in a coach but turns up, out of thin air, in the midst of the guests; and, in the end, she never gets to try on the slipper. The bitchy antics of the stepsisters and stepmother are reinforced by the foppish King and his advisors, not to mention the equally vulgar guests at the ball. Their rouged cheeks, shabby wigs, and exaggerated mannerisms make the demimonde of Manon look like the inhabitants of a nunnery. The corps dancing repeats linear progressions which are not reinforced with inventive movement, whether they are performed by the Fairy Godmother's attendants or guests at the ball. In both cases, the dancers pick around each other with mincing steps. Vinogradov habitually situates the character who should be the focal point behind or encircled by the corps, so that he or she cannot be seen properly: Cinderella is hidden by her friendly dancing pots, the Fairy Godmother by her attendants, and the traveling Prince by his soldiers.

Cinderella dances with cloglike booties when she's a servant girl and in pointe shoes after she has been endowed by her Fairy Godmother. (Lopatkina was perfectly in control in this beneficent role.) The central pas de deux for Cinderella and the Prince combines imagery from a number of familiar pas de deux but lacks its own definition. There was little rapport between Makhalina as Cinderella and her inadequate Prince, Makharbek Vaziev. But with Ayupova in the title role and Samodurov as her Prince the ballet came to life. His presence was rich and tender, his dancing powerful and controlled. Totally uncontrived, Ayupova was a perfect Cinderella. She conveyed the generosity of her character through the fullness of her dancing. Her legs lifted every bit as high as the others'; she jumped and turned as effortlessly, but she didn't call attention to these parts. It was the whole that mattered.

You feel compassion for the Russians, their ballet, and their country. They are experiencing difficulties unimagined in the West. Although ballet has a reputation for thriving only under the umbrella of bountiful patronage, it has revitalized itself, in this century, in some extraordinary circumstances and in unexpected places: the chaos of post-revolutionary Russia, in the years prior to and during the Second World War in England, and in Depression America. In each case, choreographers dared to rethink the possibilities of the ballet vocabulary, and their explorations nourished and delighted generations of dancers and audiences. In some cases, these artists were Russain-born; other were trained and influenced by Russains.

What was most important was the supremacy of their choreographic invention, their belief in the poetic transcendence of motion. That is the true legacy of Russian ballets of the nineteenth century and those from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes that have an impact today. Empty reconstructions and half-hearted manipulations of classics will not do. If ballet in Russia is to survive and prosper, its artists must insist on the primacy of movement, created in their own time. That is the essence of the art.
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Title Annotation:Kirov Ballet Company, Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York
Author:Thom, Rose Anne
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Previous Article:Cinderella.
Next Article:Les Saisons Russes.

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