I have been watching the Kirov Ballet since 1961 and have seen the Vaganova aesthetic change to such a degree perhaps influenced by the Vaganova Academy (I hope not) and the personal coaching by Vaganova's former pupils. I for one will not be sorry to see the last of some of the older teachers who had no taste in their performing and who exhibited such vulgarity, I find it hard to believe they have anything to pass on except technical tricks. I would also say that the artistic direction also needs to be questioned during the Kirov's recent history that has allowed such extraordinary distortions of choreography by senior performers.
If I go back to when the principal dancers and senior soloists included Inna Zubkovskaya, Irina Kolpakova, Alla Osipenko, Gabriella Komleva, Alla Sizova, Yelena Evteyeva etc and then see the debasing of that earlier aesthetic by the likes of Mezentseva, Zakharova, Lopatkina and Somova et al, I doubt if there is much of worth to see in any modern film on the Kirov, other than the commitment of dancers to sustain the discipline handed down to them.
The products of the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg at its best, are sublime technicians with a fully integrated artististic ethos. Regrettably today we are witnessing a progressive artistic dissolution of a once great company whose other acts of Philistinism is the rejection of the reconstruction of their 19th century repertoire heritage. These two aspects of the Kirov Ballet reflect errors of artistic judgement and are a combination of vulgar influences which the dancers have been led to by their artistic direction. It seems hard to believe in a country that flaunts magnificent museums which are presented with great taste, which sadly has not been extended to the Kirov Ballet
Leonid, given your comments, you will be extremely interested to read the results of my many interviews and research when they are published. I will be sure to loop back here and let you know.
I am curious, how many live performances of the individuals you mention have you seen in recent years?
In the meantime, I have only been following the troupe since I first saw them as a teenager in 1990, therefore you have 30+ years on me. I have however seen the company perform here in Petersburg year-round for the past five years as a resident of Russia. And having done that, I can speak to the overall quality of the troupe and of individual dancers, not just how they may appear in a single performance abroad.
Thus, I have to interrupt you on one very important point. I believe any similarly "frequent" spectator of today's Mariinsky would NEVER lop Somova in with Lopatkina into the same category either technically, dramatically or aesthetically speaking. At least none of the Russians who have been following this troupe their entire lives, and have far more knowledge, in my experience, than any Westerner could ever hope for (from my observation), would even consider such a statement. Nor would they ever categorize Lopatkina together with Zakharova --- the two are far too drastically different as dancers. Or Mezentseva with the other three. Somova is the administration's "new Zakharova project" and as such can be set apart from the others into another universe. (I believe I saw Mezentseva dance only once, so I can only comment on her from film, which I don't think is the best measure of comparison with other live performances, so I will leave her out of the discussion for now).
Lopatkina doesnt have the uber flexinastic ability and vulgarity you speak of. And in fact many people bemoan this point, saying she isn't "good enough", which is absolutely silly. She does not distort line at the expense of level hips or proper technique. Her leg cannot reach 190 degrees in a la seconde -- whether you think that is good or bad, she physically cannot do it, she isn't built that way in her pelvis. Zakharova and Somova are. Lopatkina, however, is the purist representative of Vaganova technique in the list you mention, and she has a unique adherence to proper port de bras, epaulement and step execution at all times. I have watched the precision and attention to detail she brings to her roles onstage here, as well to her rehearsals. You would be ill-pressed to find someone who represents pure Vaganova style, accurate (usually flawless) execution, (and is still dancing) in the company today more than she does.
Somova and Zakharova are flexnastic girls, the former following in the footsteps of the latter. Unfortunately, given the Western audiences' overwhelming enthusiasm for circus tricks, the physique that Zakharova (and Guillem, in France) offered has become very popular. Somova is just the next generation of this. The administration and the impresarios bill based on audience reaction -- on what sells tickets. And so until the audience reacts to her in the way that, in my opinion, they should -- that this is not a circus, it is the ART of ballet-- until then we will continue to see her given top billing on foreign tours along with the more Balanchinean, but still "closer-to-Vaganova" technicians such as Tereshkina who at least also adhere to the basics of clean execution.
I found and spoke to many pedagogues who decry this abomination of technique (I agree with you in the specific case of Somova -- despite being slender as a colt, her port de bras and epaulement is completely absent; her legwork is sloppy at best). I was pleased to hear this resounding commentary from individuals who studied under Vaganova herself, and am anxious to finish the manuscript and get it out into print. I emphasize this because this issue is NOT with the pedagogues in all cases (as you noted). In the case of who gets on stage, the pedagogues dont have any say in that, those decisions are made much higher up.
I do agree that the administration is somewhat to blame -- but the pedagogues I spoke to are doing their darndest to instill the Vaganova tradition.
There is much more to say but if I type it all here, I won't have a manuscript left :-)
I appreciate your knowledgeable feedback and always enjoy the intellectual discussions that arise often on this board.