The Mariinsky Ballet at Sadler’s Wells – Balanchine & Ratmansky

Apollo

Apollo – Igor Zelensky
Terpsichore – Ekaterina Osmolkina
Calliope – Nadezhda Gonchar
Polyhymnia – Olesya Novikova

George Balanchine – Choreography
Igor Stravinksy – Libretto & music
Ronald Bates – Original Lighting Design
Vladimir Lukasevich – Lighting

Middle Duet

Dancers:Ekaterina Kondaurova, Islom Baimuradov, Ksenia Dubrovina, Alexander Sergeyev
White Angel – Ivan Sitnikov
Dark Angel – Andrey Ushakov

Alexei Ratmansky – Choreography
Yury Khanon – Music
Vladimir Lukasevich – Lighting Design

Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux

Dancers:
Vladimir Shklyarov, Evgenya Obraztsova

George Balanchine – Choreography
Pyotr Tchaikovsky – Music
Karinska – Costume Design

The Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son – Mikhail Lobukhin
Siren – Ekaterina Kondaurova
Friends – Anton Pomonov, Grigory Popov
Father – Petr Stasyunas
Sisters – Anastasia Petushkova, Ryu Ji Yeon

George Balanchine – Choreography
Sergei Prokofiev – Music
Boris Kochno (after the Biblical Parable) – Book
Georges Rouault – Scenery & Costumes
Prince A. Schervashidze – Scenery Construction
Vera Soudeikina – Costume Construction
Vladimir Lukasevich – Lighting

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Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 16 October, 2008
Venue: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Mariinksky Ballet. Photograph: Natasha PazinaOne would think that the Mariinsky Ballet would be on safer ground than they were with William Forsythe’s ballets with a programme devoted almost exclusively to works by Mariinsky graduate George Balanchine. In part, Apollo is Balanchine’s 1928 masterpiece created for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. But it was only taken into their repertoire in 1998. And there is the rub: whereas there has been a lengthy performing tradition in Western Europe, the Russians are essentially new to this art deco work, and, fatally, have learned it from the Americans of The Balanchine Trust. At NYCB they perform a truncated version of the ballet, sanctioned by Balanchine himself in later years, but it is shorn of dramatic force and much more suited to the company’s abstract style; it is to be lamented that the Mariinsky dance this version which omits the birth of Apollo and his ascent to Parnassus up the staircase at the end; all we get is an empty stage and the ‘sunburst’ grouping which in the full version appears earlier.

Mariinksky Ballet. Photograph: Natasha PazinaIgor Zelensky has danced the title role in both New York and London, but his appearance as the god had little of the divine about it. He was on particularly bland form, his wonderful physique and plastique still intact but his technique a little shaky and his characterisation absent. His solo which starts with the iconic raising of his arms and hands to heaven went for little, and some of the smaller steps were fudged. He does a nice line in imperiousness and this served him well for his commanding of the muses, but there was not much chemistry between him and Ekaterina Osmolkina’s interesting and indeed interested Terpsichore. Here was a muse delighted to be singled out by the god, and her expressions of wonderment, her ‘aren’t I lucky?’ looks of glee were nicely judged. I felt that while she and the two other muses danced their parts well with technique to spare, there was little attention to arms, and Calliope’s solo in particular was severely compromised as a result – vague wavings are not enough. Matters were not helped by the sluggish tempi from the evening’s conductor Tugan Sokhiev.

Mariinksky Ballet. Photograph: Natasha PazinaMiddle Duet has been seen in London before (albeit in a truncated form), and injected a dose of contemporary into the proceedings (well, 1998 at least). I love the hypnotic score fromYury Khanon and Ratmansky’s easy classical style, and the lead pairing of Ekaterina Kondaurova and Islom Baimuradov were in full command of the idiom. However, the presence of two ‘angels’ standing on stools at the side of proceedings and their final tussle over the prone bodies of our two leads were inexplicable; the work should stand as a pas de deux pure and simple.

Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux (created in 1960 for Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow) is nine minutes of pure, sunny delight set to discarded music for Swan Lake Act III. It requires steely technique, insouciant brilliance and a real joie de la danse, all of which were supplied in good measure by the young soloists Vladimir Shklyarov and Evgenya Obraztsova, he puppyishly enthusiatic and bounding in energy, she crystal-cut in technical brilliance. If not all the effects quite came off (her leaps into his arms were fudged), it mattered little; their solos were impressively executed: he has remarkable ballon and his cabrioles are soaring, she is flashingly quick and precise. A delight, and a clear sign of the impressive talent in the company’s junior ranks.

The Prodigal Son by the Mariinksky Ballet. Photograph: Natasha PazinaThe Prodigal Son is another Ballets Russes survival (1929), created, as was Apollo, for the star male dancer Serge Lifar. Unlike Apollo, Balanchine did not shear it of its narrative, but like the Mariinsky’s Apollo, it lacked drama. It is a splendid work, set to Prokofiev’s fascinating score, and requires an emotional journey from the lead dancer which culminates in that heart-breaking climb up into his father’s outstretched arms. Mikhail Lobukhin is a notable dancer, a little thick of thigh but of boundless energy – however, he set about the first scene more as Spartacus than the Prodigal, his mime as vague and his acting as rudimentary as his leaps were impressive. Things settled down once at The Siren’s banquet, although there were further gripes. The grotesques, bald-headed simpletons, weren’t portrayed with total conviction by the male corps de ballet, and impressively long limbed as Ekaterina Kondaurova is, she was not in the least seductive – her conversation to the prodigal as his friends play-fight in front of them was not convincing: she was rather disengaged and clearly not interested in him and he was all short skirt and pointed feet, making, I am sure, the dynamic quite different from Balanchine’s intentions.

I was frankly disappointed with the whole presentaion. But if there is a question to be asked it is why the Mariinsky should be any good at Ballets Russes or Balanchine repertory, in any case? Mr B may well have been a graduate from the Imperial Academy, but he left Russia and went his own way, firstly with Diaghilev, (who by the time of his own death had made all his ballets over the course of 20 years far from his homeland), and then under his own steam in America where he essentially created his own école de danse. All of this took place in lands distant from mother Russia, and so when communism finally fell and the Russian companies could look to the West they discovered a whole repertoire which bore similarities to theirs but which had a focus and an accent of its own, one which they continue to find very difficult to acquire. There is no harm in trying, and these works are great indeed, but it would be wrong to assume that Russian companies will automatically perform them as well as those in the West.

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