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18.1.12

Mariinsky Ballet Samples Fokine


Chopiniana, choreography by Michel Fokine, Mariinsky Ballet
The Mariinsky Ballet's annual visits to the Kennedy Center Opera House always warm up the winter months. The St. Petersburg company is in town again this week, sadly without its outstanding étoile Diana Vishneva, but with a sampler of one-act choreographies by Michel Fokine. Called Les Saisons Russes, the trilogy evokes the season of new works presented by Diaghilev in Paris with his company Les Ballets Russes, as Fokine worked both at the Mariinsky and for Diaghilev in Paris. It made for a long evening in the theater, about three hours with two intermissions, but the productions are all lovely and the dancing very good, if without any individual performance to make it extraordinary.

The first work, Chopiniana, was created in 1908 to Alexander Glazunov's suite of orchestrations of piano pieces by Chopin, and it comes as near as one likely could to the perfect classical ballet, all of the beauty of a ballet blanc, with some astounding solos, but abstract and plot-less, without any of the character development and pantomime one would normally need to get through to reach the good stuff. Fokine reworked the piece for Diaghilev's company, under the title Les Sylphides, in 1909. The women of the corps de ballet form a graceful backdrop to the main action, which involves a poet's contemplation of beauty in the form of three female solos. The Mariinsky corps was up to its fine standards, if not quite as absolutely unified as we have seen in previous appearances. They stood in place for long periods of time, frozen like statues or trees in arranged copses or groves, their outstretched arms, like branches, sometimes fluttering or bending in the wind (lots of graceful port de bras), then coming to life as women. As the poet, Igor Kolb lived up to his name as one of only three principal dancers on this tour, graceful and so strong in the many lifts, executed with precision and unflagging confidence.



Ekaterina Kondaurova as the Firebird, Mariinsky Ballet
Fokine's extraordinary choreography for Stravinsky's The Firebird, premiered by Diaghilev in 1910 in Paris, forms the centerpiece, and with the delectable bon-bon of Chopiniana it is more than enough reason to see this production. In a reconstruction by Isabelle Fokine and Andris Liepa, it has a gorgeous, colorful set lit by black light and other colors, and delightful costumes (sets and costumes by Anna and Anatoly Nezhny). First soloist Ekaterina Kondaurova was charming as the Firebird, all avian jerks and twitches of head and arms, spotlit in her prismatic, feathered costume (Miss Ionarts spent a lot of time staring at the version on display at the entrance to the theater) by an orange-red bloom of light. Fokine included many delightful folk elements in the choreography, not least in the scene with the witches and monsters summoned by Kashchei to fight the Tsarevich, a bristling rampage of hunched figures that scared Miss Ionarts to death, as did the loping, skull-masked Kashchei of character dancer Soslan Kulaiev. Alexander Romanchikov was forthright and handsome as the Tsarevich, and there were many bewitching special effects, including rolling fog, a flashing firebird that shot across the back of the stage before Kondaurova's first entrance, and lightning flashes.

Fokine's Schéhérazade, premiered by the Ballets Russes in 1910, is not in the same category as the other two selections, although it is a pleasing, sultry evocation of a fantasy of the oriental harem. While the Sultan Shahriyar is away hunting, Zobeide and his other slaves and concubines get up to no good, leading to quite a slaughter when he returns to find them mid-orgy. Not much of the choreography is all that memorable, full of so many cliches that it approaches the level of parody, but here the star pair was definitely worth watching, principal dancers Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev as Zobeide and her slave, who gave the choreography all of the erotic longing and fulfillment it needed. Fokine selected from and rearranged, somewhat clumsily, the symphonic score by Rimsky-Korsakov, to make it fit the somewhat soap-operatic story, and the seams show. In the pit, the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra sounded a little disorganized and under-rehearsed (the hand of conductor Alexey Repnikov not always so clear), especially in the many rubato slow-downs and speed-ups of Chopiniana, with the strongest, most unified sound in what is probably the most familiar score, The Firebird. Concertmaster Oleg Rylatko had a passionate, if not always perfectly tuned sound on the iconic violin solos of the Rimsky-Korsakov score.

This production continues through January 22, in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Casting changes with each performance and is always subject to last-minute changes. You can compare the dancers listed by the Kennedy Center Web site with this roster from the Mariinsky Ballet.

SVILUPPO:
Jacqueline Trescott, Reston’s Keenan Kampa to join Mariinksy Ballet (Washington Post, January 19)

Sarah Kaufman, Mariinsky Ballet shines in Fokine program (Washington Ballet, January 19)

---, Mariinsky Ballet’s Fokine works: History revisited (Washington Post, January 14)

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