Posted 26 April 2008 - 11:29 AM
I knew that I had not been able to express my response to the Mariinsky's performance of the Bizet 2nd movement very coherently, and that I really needed to see it again as it was done in Mr. B's day. Thanks to a kind friend, I was able to see the Kent-Ludlow performance from 1973, and it crystalized what I was trying to say.
The difference is not merely in the slower Mariinsky tempos, or the opening up of the score's repeats, it is in the entire presentation. If I can sum it up, the Mariinsky is dancing Swan Lake, in a manner that recalls Balanchine's comment that Russia is now the home of the romantic ballet, while Kent and company are dancing a ceremony to a goddess in a way that recalls (if only a little), Pirandello's famous crack "Nietzsche said that the Greeks put up white statues against the black abyss, in order to hide it. I, instead, topple them in order to reveal it." It is pure 'white' classicism at night, in the dark, with the powerful 'casta diva' who reigns over it, and a celebrant who keeps it under some measure of control.
The Mariinsky soften all the steps, tame them, make everything upright and polite. They correct for Balanchine's infelicities - when Lopatkina does the dying fall at the conclusion of the movement, she rounds both arms over her head, with no flourishes, and looks away from her partner at the last moment after looking at him as intently as Odile adoring the Prince. Kent stretches one arm across her partner's shoulder, holding him at bay, looking at him for almost the first time, then looking away until the last second, when she switches her gaze suddenly back to him as she flicks her free arm with great finality. He is not her lover, not her Prince - he is her celebrant, her consort possibly, her priest surely. In the early falls backward into his arms, Lopatkina goes only halfway down, the elegant princess, whereas Kent has Ludlow plunge her almost to the floor, stretching herself out, her hands brushing the stage, never looking at him or giving him attention, allowing herself to be worshipped. The running lifts towards the end - the moon going across the sky - are quick, decorous lifts and much running for the Russians; but Ludlow runs a few steps only with Kent, before sailing her across the stage in great arcs.
The flattening of foot movements has been noted, but not the flattening of accents into a smooth prettiness, especially in the ballerina solo, which Kent does now with sharp stabs of feet and arms, now with playful toying with the music. She lets you see temperament, will and the sense of power and daring that are of her essence; Lopatkina chooses to even it all out and remain a princess in love. Ironically, Lopatkina's partner is a complete cypher - why she is in love with him remains a mystery. Balanchine didn't provide a relationship of that kind here, and the company is at a bit of a loss creating one. Ludlow, on the other hand, is a powerful presence, though never in the least obtrusive. Some of the moments I found most impressive were those when he came up behind Kent, and she made clear that she felt his presence but didn't need to acknowledge it. They do have a relationship, but it isn't a romantic one - he is yet another Balanchine surrogate, not just supporting, but helping create, her freedom and magic.
Now none of this says that the Mariinsky's approach doesn't have its own validity or that Lopatkina doesn't dance magnificently. But for me, the company takes something original and provocative and makes it more conventional than I care for.