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St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre's UK tour


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#1 Kevin Ng

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 10:07 AM

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, a 45-strong company directed by Konstantin Tatchkin, commenced its four-month UK tour at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton in mid-November. The repertory consisted solely of the three Tchaikovsky classics - "Swan Lake", "Nutcracker", and also a new production of "The Sleeping Beauty" which only premiered in its home theatre in Liteiny Prospekt in St. Petersburg in early November. This new production of "Beauty" was first performed in Britain in the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe two weeks ago.

I caught each of the three classics once in both venues. The new "Beauty" with attractive sets and costumes designed by Semion Pastukh and Galina Solovieva respectively, is mainly based on the previous Kirov Ballet's version of Konstantin Sergeyev but has some some unexpected innovations. Aurora is pricked by a rose instead of by the needles fulfilling Carabosse's curse, and hence the Rose Adagio earlier is danced with carnations. In the hunting scene there is a dancing bear introduced. Curiously Florimund doesn't kiss Aurora in the pavilion to awaken her, but instead touches her with a rose.

The text of Konstantin Sergeyev's 1950 version of "Swan Lake", which is the present production of the Kirov, is also reproduced in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre's production of "Swan Lake".

Of more interest is the company's "Nutcracker" based on Vasily Vainonen's 1934 production for the Kirov, which the Kirov performed in London Coliseum in December 1996. It is stretched into three acts instead of two acts as is customary. The first act ends with the departure of the party guests, and the second act starts with Clara returning to the drawing room at night to retrieve her nutcracker doll. St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre's production has some additional choreography by Svetlana Efremova, a ballet mistress of the company and a former Kirov dancer. Efremova has introduced two demi-soloists in the snowflakes scene. There is a solo for the Snow Queen set to music from Tchaikovsky's Mozartiana. And there is also a beautiful additional pas de deux for Masha/Clara and the Nutcracker Prince in the snowflakes scene which ends memorably with Masha balancing on pointe on a veil dragged by the Prince. In this Vainonen version, the grand pas de deux is danced in the presence of four attendant cavaliers.

The dancers of the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, which was only founded in 1994, were mainly drawn from the Vaganova Academy, which explained the good schooling of the corps de ballet. While the company is obviously not Kirov-standard, their overall dancing is nevertheless very decent. The male dancers make more of an impression than the women.

The company possesses an excellent pure classical danseur in the 21-year-old principal Yuri Gloukhikh who trained in the Vaganova Academy. Tall and handsome, this blond dancer has a beautiful long line and a noble bearing that reminds me of Vladimir Malakhov when he was still dancing with the Moscow Classical Ballet in the late 1980s. Gloukhikh has a high elevation in his jumps, and his acting has a naturalistic style. Both his Siegfried and Florimund were outstanding.

A younger and even taller principal dancer is the 18-year-old Kiev trained Aleksandr Zhembrovskiy. His Nutcracker Prince was stylishly danced, and he is obviously a dancer with great potential. He also danced Blue bird.

Strangely the first nights of each of the three classics had the same dancer in the ballerina role - Irina Kolesnikova, a contemporary of Gloukhikh. Kolesnikova was at her best as Masha in Nutcracker. Anastassia Kolegova danced gorgeously in the Snow Queen solo.

The company will eventually reach London on 13 January when it will give a single performance of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Royal Albert Hall.

#2 rg

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 11:07 AM

thanks for the picture of these kirov/k.sergeyev/vainonen productions, kevin.
i'm especially curious about the detail of using a veil to glide the ballerina along (here in the snow scene but, originally a moment from the ballet's climactic pas de deux for the sugarplum and her cavalier. this has 'effect' fascinated me since reading about it in reference sources, such as r.j.wiley's 'tchaikovsky's ballets,' and seeing historic pictures from the imperial th. yearbooks: is the veil moved while the ballerina stands on pointe? (seems risky to negotiate!) (the peter wright prod. for the royal ballet had a version of this in the last act's pas de deux for sugarplum and her cavalier, and it's recorded on video, but from what i can gather it was a short-lived detail that did not last long in this production.)
recently i saw a video of a 'nutcracker' production nikita dolgushin did in st. petersburg. in dolgushin's version the ballerina is pulled on a veil guided by her cavalier as she stands in fourth postition on 'the flat' as dancers sometimes say. it looks somewhat odd, but it is more stable than the seemingly precarious fifth-on-pointe positioning shown in some photos from the original production. (to be sure, photos, esp. from this era, are deceiving, as they were often posed for the occasion of the picture and not necessarily representative of any actually choreographed moment.) still, writing about the sugarplum's pas de deux with her prince, wiley reports the use of a track in the stage called a 'reika,' which i may or may not be spelling correctly here - book not at hand! this is, of course, a similar device to that employed by balanchine in his act-2 pas de deux where the ballerina is drawn along in first arabesque pose her cavalier, as if by 'magic' (no veil; and the devices is a little plate on the stage, not a track in the stage boards).
so, if this recent borrowing of the 1892 effect for the st. petersburg ballet theatre production has the ballerina swept along on the veil while on pointe: a) was the path of travel of some duration or rather brief? and, B) did it look secure? (or scary?).
also, i wonder if anyone knows whether this sir-walter-raleighlike moment is recorded in the most recently taped performance of wright's 'nutcracker' w/ dowell as drosselmeier and cojocaru as clara? US tv is due to show telecast the performance here later this month, but i know it's been shown in the UK and is already out, i think, on tape and/or dvd in britain.

[ December 01, 2001: Message edited by: rg ]

[ December 01, 2001: Message edited by: rg ]



#3 Kevin Ng

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 12:15 PM

[quote]Originally posted by rg:

so, if this recent borrowing of the 1892 effect for the st. petersburg ballet theatre production has the ballerina swept along on the veil while on pointe: a) was the path of travel of some duration or rather brief? and, B) did it look secure? (or scary?).
also, i wonder if anyone knows whether this sir-walter-raleighlike moment is recorded in the most recently taped performance of wright's 'nutcracker' w/ dowell as drosselmeier and cojocaru as clara?



rg, to reply to your questions. a) From what I remember the path of travel lasted about a minute. B) It looked secure and not at all precarious.

This 'gliding' moment isn't however in Peter Wright's current version of Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet. I saw several performances last Christmas, and noticed that this moment has been cut. I remember how much I was entranced by it when I saw the first run of performances of Wright's original production at Covent Garden back in 1984.

[ December 01, 2001: Message edited by: Kevin Ng ]



#4 Alexandra

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 12:37 PM

Kevin, thank you so much for posting that long report. It's always wonderful to read about performances one can't get to.

About the veil moment, I always thought the ballerina stuck her toe into a machine, a slot in the floor, and was then pulled her along? (The veil would be there, of course, but it would be an illusion that the partner was pulling her.)

Alonso's "Giselle" has a gliding moment for Myrtha, but she's behind bushes and you can't see how it's done. She glides across the back of the stage before her first entrance. It was so smooth (and she was facing the audience) that it had to be a mechanical effect -- and a very effective one.

#5 rg

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 01:48 PM

thanks for all the observations & thoughts on this 'effect.' what i still can't get my mind around is how, when poised atop a little moving platform, even one guided in a slot in the stage (wiley has a footnote on the device from 19th c. russia), a ballerina can maintain her balance and poise, otherwise unsupported. balanchine's effect works neatly because the sugarplum is being supported by her cavalier's hand as she's drawn along on the little platform. in the imperial yearbook photo nikitina(?) is just standing on pointe, in fifth position, which would seem really hard to hold calmly as a little wooden platform moved underneath a veil. but maybe it's not. certainly the moment as executed by collier and dowell in the royal 'nutcracker' video, which admittedly doesn't involve any 'machinery' (only the veil), looked, as i think the brits might say, a bit dodgy.
oh well it obviously worked somehow for the ivanov 'nutcracker' and became something of a tradition. furthermore, from other, earlier imperial ballet photos, it would seem that a similar effect was worked in this era, one notably by petipa in 'niad and the fisherman,' where the male dancer pulled the ballerina along with his net, which is more or less disposed like the veil in the later 'nutcracker' photo. in any case, i'm happy to hear the moment is being variously recreated now more than a century later.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 02:06 PM

rg, it sure looks hard to me, but then, so does balancing on a flower, or diving from wherever it was that La Peri launched her famous dive. Perhaps so much emphasis was put on balancing that it was less difficult for those ballerinas? (This is a pure guess and should not be taken seriously as history smile.gif )

#7 rg

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 03:15 PM

actually the detail of those 'toe tip balances' on a flower's petals, familiar from 19th c. lithos is a good ref. point here. but that 'effect,' which fonteyn calls a 'toe hold' in her good book accompanying her 'magic of the dance' series, is more understandable to me. the little place into which the 19th c. ballerina seemingly fit her 'pointe' is a little shoe-tree-like/toe-cup thing, rather like the little carved place onto which the kirov auroras of the new 'old' 'sleepingbeauty' slip their standing foot for the little pose (atop a seashell) in the vision scene. but that would seem to provide real foot support, which is understandable. this 'reika' thing, so far as i understand it, is not so elaborate, but really only a little flat moving board which provides the effect w/ its gliding movement, but not with any additional support for the balancing ballerina. maybe i misunderstand the design/shape of the 'reika' or maybe it's not really all that hard, but i see the machinery as variable of speed and impetus and when i think of the effectof inertia etc., all i see is some poor ballerina trying to look cool as she's having the rug (in this case the 'veil'!) pulled out from under her feet!
ah, the mysterious/magical ways of theater and/or of ballerina's composure/strength/expertise!

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 04:08 PM

Yes, I knew about the "toe cup" I assumed the "rug pull" used the same technique. Remember the stories of Toumanova and her mother rushing into a new theater and checking out the stage, looking for a "dimple" near center stage where a ballerina's foot would be supported during her "rock solid" fouettes? smile.gif I've always assumed -- perhaps wrongly -- that this was one of the old ways that, for better or worse, is now gone.

#9 Kevin Ng

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Posted 01 December 2001 - 11:05 PM

Alexandra and rg, I am fascinated by your observations on this 'gliding' effect in other past and present productions.

I just like to add to my earlier remarks. The additonal pas de deux in the snow scene choreographed by Svetlana Efremova in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker is set to a section of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 3, but I don't know which section precisely. I remember clearly that the veil was actually moved while the ballerina was balancing on pointe, and there was no stage machinery facilitating that.

I would be very interested to see too Nikita Dolgushin's version for his company based in the St. Petersburg Conservatory that rg mentioned. By the way, there's a long interview with Dolgushin in the current issue of the bi-lingual St. Petersburg magazine "Ballet Art", which I bought in St. Petersburg last month.


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