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Kevin Ng

Kirov galas at Covent Garden

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Kevin Ng   

This is the up to date programme for the two Kirov galas at Covent Garden this week. I will only list the programme for the Kirov Ballet, and not the Opera.

Tue., 28 May -

"Serenade", "Don Quixote" pas de deux, extracts from "Raymonda" and "The Sleeping Beauty".

Wed., 29 May -

"Leningrad Symphony" (Belsky), "The Prodigal Son", "Middle Duo" (Ratmansky), extracts from "Cinderella" (Ratmansky) and "Spartacus" (Jacobson).

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Kevin Ng   

The two Kirov galas at Covent Garden this week offered a rare chance to see two pieces from the Soviet era which are rarely seen on the Kirov's overseas tours. The pas de deux from Leonid Jacobson's version of "Spartacus", seemed rather dull and flat in comparison with Grigorovich's version for the Bolshoi. It's surprising that there were hardly any supported lifts in Jacobson's choreography, which however had far too much operatic-style gesturing and exaggerated facial emoting from Yulia Makhalina and Alexander Kurkov.

"Leningrad Symphony" choreographed by Igor Belsky depicted the city's suffering in the second world war. Shostakovich's score sometimes had a repetitive rhythm not unlike Ravel's Bolero. The choreography was rather cliche-ridden and not particularly inventive, and had a lot of static groupings in a series of tableaux following each other. Daria Pavlenko was the heart of the ballet and danced expressively. An ensemble of white-clad male dancers had a lot of exciting jumps in the first movement. Later, a betrayer figure appeared who was brutalised by a group of soldiers in grey costumes. The city's suffering seemed to be symbolised by a group of women also attired in gloomy grey.

The audience also saw snippets from two new ballets created for the Kirov in the past two years and shown in this year's Maryinsky Festival in March. Diana Vishneva, the foremost Kirov ballerina at present, was ecstatic and heart-meltingly lyrical in the pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky's new production of "Cinderella", with Andrei Merkuriev as her prince. And the waltz of the snowflakes from Kirill Simonov's production of "The Nutcracker" with the corps de ballet in black must have astonished some in the audience.

The night before Diana Vishneva and Andrei Merkuriev dazzled in the "Don Quixote" pas de deux. Vishneva was delectable in the series of 'pas de cheval' in her solo and in those 'retires', and in the coda threw in some triple 'fouettes' turns. Merkuriev was moving in the title role in Balanchine's "The Prodigal Son", which seemed more avant-garde and less dated than Belsky's "Leningrad Symphony". Daria Pavlenko had the right allure as the siren.

For me the most significant piece in the two different galas was Balanchine's early masterpiece "Serenade" which was given a transcendent performance by the Kirov dancers. Irina Golub had the most glorious jumps as the Russian ballerina. Natalia Sologub, partnered by Danila Korsuntsev, was poetic in the waltz. I hope that the Kirov will continue to acquire more Balanchine ballets in the future.

Sologub (the winner of this year's Golden Mask award for female dancer) and Golub, both rising stars in their early twenties, testify to the Kirov's consistently strong line-up of ballerinas. Golub also danced in the Blue bird pas de deux from "The Sleeping Beauty" with Vasily Scherbakov whose 'poisson' jumps were impeccable. And Sologub was exciting in Alexei Ratmansky's duet "Middle Duo", strongly partnered by Islom Baimuradov.

There were also two pieces in the galas reminding us once again of the Kirov's unsurpassed strength in character dancing - the Act 3 Hungarian dance from "Raymonda", and Fokine's Polovtsian dances from "Prince Igor". In the latter piece Islom Baimuradov, as the male soloist, was most charismatic and dazzled in his high jumps.

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I'd like to echo Kevin in saying just how terrific the Mariinsky galas were. And by seeing the whole ensemble; orchestra, dancers and singers, we had an impression of the strength and depth of the organisation. They brought 250 performers, plus technical staff, all for two performances. I hope they raised a lot of money.

The singing was mostly terrific. Three wonderful young sopranos and a plethora of terrific Russian basses.

The first evening began with the final chorus from A Life for the Tsar. I mention this only because for years it has been referred to by its Soviet title; Ivan Susanin, it always used to open the season at the Mariinsky and Kchessinska led the dances in the Polish Act, partnering her father.

But as far as the ballet was concerned; I found the two Ratmansky duets interesting and very contrasted. I loved the bit in Cinderella where she keeps asking the other guests at the ball if they know the time. Alas; none of them has a watch.

I'm afraid I didn't admire her in the Don Quixote pas. She's not a real virtuoso in the Tarasova style and I find her performances very calculated. There's no spontenity, no sense of fun. She also wore one of the most hideous tutus I've ever seen. Andrei Merkuriev partnered her nicely, but he didn't seem to me the right kind of dancer for that number in a gala context.

I thought Serenade looked and sounded terrific. The man sitting next to me clearly hated it. In particular I admired Veronica Part and Irina Golub. The corps too was terrific, but Oh, those noisy shoes.

It was interesting to see the Hungarian number from Raymond, though we'd originally been promised the Pas Classique Hongrois.

A nice Bluebird, but it looked oddly out of place and was surprisingly the only classical Petipa in the entire two evenings - I don't think you can really count Don Q any longer as it's mainly an opportunityfor the two dancers to display their favourite tricks.

The Polovtsian Dances looked so much better in context and the two basses (Nikolai Putilin anbd Gennady Bezzubenkov) were terrific. We left the theatre on a real high and just 5 minutes after the estimated curtain time which was a real testament to the stage management as we had 12 items, with decors and an interval.

Highlight of the second night for me was Leningrad Symphony which finished the first part after a long extract from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. Choreographically it is I suppose a period piece, but a good one. It was wonderfully played and danced with complete conviction. Daria Pavlenko was outstanding as the Girl - more moving even I think than Alla Sizova who created the role - and Andrei Yakovlev was fine as the Youth. But I can't see that ballet without remembering Yuri Soloviev who combined humanity, heroism and pure classical virtuosity in equal measure. Anyway, I don't mind admitting that my eyes were streaming by the time the piece ended although whether it was the ballet, the music or the memory of that truly great dancer I couldn't say.

Snowflakes from the new Nutcracker I though simply eccentric, and I didn't find Maestro Gergiev's super-fast tempo particularly convincing musically. Ruzimatov failed to appear for Prodigal, but I thought Merkuriev was pretty good, especially in the early scenes, less so in the final two tableaux and I loved Pavlenko. A real little Siren and to think she danced her first Nikia only 48 hours later.

One person I forgot to mention is Yulia Makhalina who danced a pas de deux from the Jaconson Spartacus partnered by Alexander Kurkov. It's a curious number out of context and very much of its period, but I thought she gave a real Mariinsky ballerina performance, despite being given so little to do, a more credit to her.

All in all two wonderful evenings, well worth the exorbitant prices - and apologies for having rambled on for so long.

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