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Marc Haegeman

Crisis at the Kirov Ballet?

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In the culture and arts sections of the Russian press there recently was a lot of talk about a crisis of the Kirov Ballet management. Not much of a surprise to anyone who has been following the Kirov in the last decade more or less closely, yet the fact remains that this time Valery Gergiev, the big chief of the Mariinsky, publicly stated his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in the ballet company, and more precisely with its management. It is now deemed essential to find a choreographer to run the company which would imply that Makhar Vaziev (who is only company manager since 1995) is about to be replaced. Yet just as in previous instances they find it rather difficult to come up with somebody to replace him. Several people have been named in the Russian articles, the one more absurd than the other, varying from Asylmuratova to Vikharev, and from Zelensky to Lopatkina. There is also serious regret that Alexei Ratmansky, one of Russia's most esteemed choreographers, is now lost to the Bolshoi.

At least one article justly emphasizes the improbable position the Kirov Ballet has been in within the Mariinsky Theatre since 1995 when artistic director Oleg Vinogradov was ousted: no proper artistic director or choreographer, the unequal and unreal position of the ballet company related to the opera and the orchestra, and last but not least the total subordination to somebody who doesn’t understand a thing about ballet. Also stressed is the change in the general attitude toward Makhar Vaziev, who keeps the company going since 1995. Until recently he was even over-generously credited with the achievements of his predecessor, like the so-called discovery of a brilliant new generation of ballerinas or the expansion of the repertory with Western choreographers, now he is blamed for all what’s going wrong with the company: unsuccessful premieres and questionable choice of repertory, unequal level of the performances, even on tours, troubled relationships with invited choreographers and local stars, stressful situations inside the company, etc.

Some articles (in Russian language):

http://www.gorod-spb.ru/story.php?st=3086

http://www.kommersant.ru/region/spb/page.h...9032§ion=34

http://www.izvestia.ru/culture/article41809

In any case something to be followed. I hope that our Russian posters (Inga, Mikhail, …) will join in and give more information about this case.

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Very interesting, Marc -- thanks for the report. The company will be here for the rest of the month (the opera opens next Tuesday, the ballet company follows the following week) so maybe something will surface in the American press.

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This situation is highly unfortunate. Gergiev wrote knowingly about and performed brilliantly the ballet music which had, perhaps, become a bit stale, but when it comes to running the ballet company itself, he seems to have all of the words, and none of the music. :wub:

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Nice line, Mel :wub: It seems that the European companies' management thinks that a ballet company can be run like an opera or theater company, or an orchestra (choose the repertory, hire a few people, then rehearse). Well, yes, but...... Gergiev doesn't have to teach each instrumentalist his part and THEN make them sound like something. And the American companies' (nonartistic) management often think they can be run like Wal-Mart.

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. Gergiev wrote knowingly about and performed brilliantly the ballet music

Where did you read Gergiev's remarks, Mel? (Can you read Russian?) I'd be VERY interested t read more.... The Kirov's performances here were not as problemmatic as those in London (where I have it on excellent authority they were dancing works they really did not KNOW), but still, the Fokine was beautifully played by the orchestra but quite upsetting to look at, especially if you saw it more than once.

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Schwann "Artist" catalogue. Year 1999, if I recall correctly. Fortunately for me, it came out while I was writing the pages on the Tchaikovsky ballets for the main site here.

The article wasn't an interview, but instead, an appreciation, with many of Gergiev's writings on Tchaikovsky excerpted from their Russian originals. I can read Cyrillic, but I can't read Russian.

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It’s really looks as if in the last years Kirov management lost it’s grip. I remember in 1998 or something there was much talking in the press about great Kirov ballet and “baby ballerinas” Lopatkina, Vishneva and Zakharova who at the time was new for many people, there was articles in many newspapers, programs on TV. Now there is not so much attention to the Kirov, and there is no new ballerinas who have such a reputation. Critics in Moscow have not much raving about Kirov when it danced here last time. May be Kirov have no new good dancers, may be they just don’t want to advertise their new ballerinas. This time Kirov ever nominated no ballerinas for the Golden Mask Award, they nominated boys only, Sarafanov and Fadeev, for their parts in Etudes.

The press write that Kirov suffered from the endless touring that is hard to bear, and it give to the dancers no time to prepare their roles and even premieres is not well prepared. Also the tough style of the management don’t give to the dancers to refuse the roles they don’t like and so on. One critic think it’s the reasons why Zakharova leaved the Kirov for the Bolshoi. May be Zakharova’s departure also was considered as a sign that Kirov have problems.

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Good points -- thank you, Inga. A colleague of mine also pointed out that this most recent American tour was not a sell out in all cities (Detroit, for example, not a city accustomed to seeing a lot of ballet, did not sell out all performances, I'm told.)

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These are all valid points, but

1) Moscow critics have a long history of trashing the Kirov.

2) I was in Detroit, and the performances were on the whole fabulous.

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Re Detroit, no one has questioned the quality of the performances. Good, bad or fantastic, some performances did not sell well.

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Thalictum, Moscow critics trash Moscow ballet as well, it’s their style :devil: . When there was Lopatkina, they praised her, when there was Sologub, the reception was colder. And last time there was not so many interviews. Vishneva and Zakharova have success but there was not such a rave about the company as before.

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There is a long-standing cultural antipathy between the two cities -- and the two ballet companies.

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"Antipathy" is much too strong a word, Thalictum. Rivalry is more appropriate. :devil:

Besides, Inga's point is that the Kirov Ballet generates a lot less of attention and praise than it used to, take in the mid-nineties. And for reasons described above. It is also the case in London, where the critics really cannot be accused of an anti-Kirov tradition: the embarrassingly unprepared new productions, the absence of many of the established stars, some really poor performances during last's summer season in Covent Garden raised more than a few eyebrows. As Jane Simpson summed it up in her review for Dance View: "It won't take much more of this sort of thing to have us thinking that the Kirov is taking us for a ride."

Nothing of this is really new, but it has become a bit too obvious in the last years. Finally, nobody will question the quality of the dancers (indeed, given the circumstances in which they perform, only for that they would deserve our admiration), it's the way they are treated which has to be reconsidered.

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Perhaps somewhere between "rivalry," and "antipathy," given the comments about the two companies I've heard made by their respective counterparts. And the Soviet government was overt in its favoritism towards Moscow institutions, in terms of funding, etc.

There is no point in arguing, but as I said before, when the Kirov was in Detroit artistically they were near the top of their game. Not every soloist was equally good, but the overall standard was extraordinarily high.

Marc, if you had to sit through the performances we see in America by native companies, you would appreciate the difference all the more!

I wasn't in London so I can't comment on what went on there. Most of the reviews suggested that they were in disarray and they well might have been. Certainly the touring schedule is grueling.

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I think the Kirov made a few serious miscalculations for its London stay. The first of which was to bring new ballets that had not been properly rehearsed, such as Les Noces, Sacre, and Etudes. And even bringing a strongly performed Les Noces to London is risky. The English have a very strong relationship with this ballet. They were primed to pick it apart (not as good as the home team they sniffed, it is understandable considering the lineage of their own version0. They are much more likely to find fault in that than the Kirov doing Balanchine (although there might be as much of an arguement as to how they do Balanchine, the Etudes and Sacre as the Nijinska).

At the same time, it looks or is really bad when the dancer a company has been pushing for seven years leaves for the rival company.

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I wish WE'd gotten bayadere.....

What is your theater like? Is the stage big enough to hold the sets (when the Paris Opera Balletwas here, even the SF Opera House was too small, and thetemple had to be put flat on hte ground, with no staircase -- so when Nikiya made her entrance, she could not point her foot and announce herself... the Shades scene had t do without at least one layer of backdrop, so it looked quite peculiar.....

and if they'd come to Zellerbach, where the Kirov danced, there would have been even less room....

SO I was thinking maybe wwe didn't get Bayadee because it wouldn't fit into Zellerbach..

Though maybe that wasn't it at all - -and anyway, the maryinsky may not have as big a stage as the palais garnier.....

But what is YOUR theater like? DId hte production look good?

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Bayadere looked wonderful. The 1920s Detroit Opera House, originally a movie palace, was restored in front of the proscenium and completely rebuilt behind it in the 1990s and now has an enormous stage, almost as big as the Met in NY.

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  And even bringing a strongly performed Les Noces to London is risky.  The English have a very strong relationship with this ballet.  They were primed to pick it apart (not as good as the home team they sniffed, it is understandable considering the lineage of their own version0. ..... (although there might be as much of an arguement as to how they do Balanchine, the Etudes and Sacre as the Nijinska).

Obviously I can't speak for the whole of London, but I don't suppose I was the only one whose criticism was driven mainly by disappointment. We know from the Royal Ballet's best performances that Les Noces is one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century, and the prospect of seeing it done by a great Russian company was very exciting: far from going along to pick it apart or to sniff, I was hoping to see it looking even greater. Then the curtain went up and we saw that they hadn't even finished learning the steps.

There was, also, a lot of disappointment with Sacre, and I wasn't very impressed myself with the way they did Etudes, though others like it.

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I agree that they made poor programming choices for London, though I have to say that I would never expect the Kirov to look better in a ballet created by the Nijinksys or Balanchine or Ashton or MacMillan. They have had a very different history in the 20th century than "Western" companies and I would not expect that to make their performances less than the best ever seen. Their hearts are different than those of western dancers and that nuances thier performances of "western" ballets in a negative (my opinion only) way. Not that they aren't beautiful, but they are somehow not as "creative".

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Hi! I used to be KBfan. Thanks Alexandra for your help getting me back online!

The Kirov is concluding its Japanese tour tonight, and will be in Washington DC

next week through New Year's. The company has been on the road since June.

That's just too much. The company is exhausted. When they brought "Les Noces," "Etudes" and "Rite of Spring" to London, who could expect that they would turn in exemplary performances with minimal preparation and rehearsal? That's unrealistic. What is expected is competence and professionalism for the prices that the audience pays.

Vaziev is not a choreographer nor a good administrator, and this is the problem.

Y. Grigorovich in the 50s & 60s, and O. Vinogradov were at least choreographers. There are similarities between Grigorovich and Vinogradov: They were

both stage producers more than composers of steps, and they were autocrats. Their choreography illustrated rather than interpreted the music. A great choreographer interprets the music building on the old language, a new dialect of steps. Balanchine and Ashton did this. They created steps.

Also, when you divide the choice roles of the classical repertory between two ballerinas, as Vaziev has done, there's bound to be friction backstage. IMO I don't think Zakharova is a big loss to the Kirov stylistically or artistically. She's better

suited to the Bolshoi with her iconoclastic stage persona. She easily takes Volochkova's place & Vishneva would be perfect for NYCB. IMO, what Gergiev needs to do now is aggresively court Boris Eifman, not to leave his company, but to come and assist, as well as others such as Forsythe, Bourne and Eks, to come and create. Gergiev should open the doors of the Maryinsky with an open invitation to the best choreographers in Europe to come and work. Gergiev can showcase NEW works during the Maryinsky festival more agressively encouraging choreographic competions, etc. Ratmansky is a regretable loss, but Eifman is at least his equal.

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Interesting points KBFan-turned-into-Cygnet. However, I don't quite follow your confidence in Valery Gergiev, while you condemn Makhar Vaziev. What the Kirov badly needs in my opinion is a ballet person who can run the company with sufficient autonomy to give it an artistic profile viable in the 21st century. With Gergiev in charge one cannot be further away from that and if Vazievs policy in the last 8 or 9 years has to be considered a failure, than Gergiev is for a large part to blame by denying Vaziev that autonomy.

I don't believe either that Eifman or an invasion of the European choreographers (controversial for anybody who still cares for classical ballet) you mention could in any way be a solution for the Mariinsky. Let's not forget that in the last years they had plenty of "new" choreography (Balanchine, Nijinska, MacMillan, Neumeier, Ratmansky, Simonov...), and as it seems far too much for their own good already. I would suggest to give them the time to digest what they acquired, let them really become "the home of Balanchine", and let them work on their own magnificent heritage (it's rich, but delicate enough so it needs attention), instead of producing yet another doubtful escapade in novelty.

Finally, it's beyond me why anybody with an "iconoclastic" stage persona would be more suited for the Bolshoi Ballet than for the Mariinsky, and I really don't get your comparison of Zakharova with Volochkova.

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:FIREdevil: I see your points Marc. Perhaps Gergiev should loosen the reins for Vaziev

to do what needs to be done for the company. Vaziev needs more freedom, and

Gergiev needs to give this to him. Gergiev probably considers the ballet company a poor stepchild to the opera - his baby. I didn't consider that they should digest what they have already before taking on more stuff - of course, this is logical. Also, you're right, 'iconoclastic' is the wrong word. I'm comparing Zakharova with Volochkova artistically; IMO I think of them as non-conformists. Zakharova seems determined to distort line and style with her hyperextensions and introverted approach to the classics. Whereas, with Volochkova I base my verdict on the first hand opinions of someone who would know best her strengths and weaknesses - Ekaterina Maximova her (former?) coach. (Please see Bolshoi threads on 'Volochkova' et al.).

Happy Holidays to all!

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Dear Cygnet,

While I was trying to find some time in my pre-Christmas bustle to reply to your first posting, Marc had already done it. Still I would like, Cygnet, to object to at least two of your points.

The first one is about Zakharova not being “a big loss to the Kirov stylistically or artistically”. In my opinion, a ballerina of Zakharova’s calibre would have been a great loss to any company. Although I don’t think she has matured as an actress yet ( she is still 24), however, she has a uniquely beautiful body, exquisite feet and arms and on the top of it her technique is outstanding. The beauty of her line and her gracefulness are exceptional. All this allows her to be called, as they do it in Mariinsky, an “Imperial ballerina”. Her departure to Moscow was one of the reasons why the Kirov’s Maestro became enraged with the ballet management.

Zakharova always keeps herself in excellent form and is a modest and quiet person, therefore I am completely taken aback by your suggestion that “she easily takes Volochkova's place”. Those who know these two ballerinas well would not even put their names on the same written line.

The second point. Your advice to Maestro to invite “the best choreographers in Europe” made me shudder at the mere thought of it. Isn’t your list too excessive? To invite all that lot to “create” in Mariinsky would be the best way to destroy the unique classical company as we know it. Crisis at the Kirov? They only have a problem with some aspects of management but Vaziev can be praised at least for creating a quite diverse repertoire for the company, and Mariinsky dancers proved that they can dance anything. However, “to open the doors” and flood their repertoire with supermodern choreography will be wrong. There are numerous companies in the world who dance 'creations' by avangardistic choreographers, some of them featuring on your list. Ask those companies to dance The Kingdom of Shades or Chopiniana – and what will you get?

Please let Mariinsky remain the guardian of that most specialised form of art which is called CLASSICAL BALLET.

Where the management problem is concerned I am sure it will be solved soon.

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