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Prodigal Son in Rotterdam

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It was a disappointingly meagre ballet program that the Valery Gergiev Festival in Rotterdam finally came up with. This prestigious annual Festival (the greatest of its kind in The Netherlands and this year in its 8th edition already), usually proposes ten or so days of symphonic concerts conducted by the ubiquitous Gergiev, mainly with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, but also chamber music, recitals and lectures focused on a theme or, as in this case, a composer, Sergei Prokofiev (appropriately so, as he died 50 years ago), characterized as the “Prodigal Son”. Balanchine’s ballet of the same name couldn’t be overlooked and became the centrepiece of the only ballet program of the Festival this year. For the occasion Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Orchestra from the pit in the smallish “Schouwburg” of Rotterdam. As an opener were scheduled 'scenes' from "Cinderella" and "Romeo and Juliet". Yet, these scenes turned out to be two duets of less than 10 minutes each, the Waltz from the second act from "Cinderella" and the Balcony scene from "Romeo", performed before a pitch black backcloth. The whole evening lasted exactly 1 hour 22 minutes, curtain calls included.

The opening waltz was solidly danced by Natalia Sologub and Vladimir Shishov, even if Ratmansky’s choreography which has Cinderella continually pointing towards her wrist (perversely enough quite apt for the general atmosphere surrounding this ballet evening) was hardly worth the effort. The other duet was danced by young and charming Evgenia Obraztsova partnered by old and labouring Viktor Baranov. It was over and forgotten before we realized it

Things improved with "Prodigal Son", which at least had everything, sets included. Moreover, both leading roles were excellently done by Yulia Makhalina and the promising newcomer Mikhail Lobukhin. There was a fine supporting cast, with notably an impressive Vladimir Ponomarev as the father.

I note with much displeasure that the organizers, or the Mariinsky, were once again unable to provide accurate casting lists. Announced names were incorrect and the dancers mentioned in the program book were inaccurate as well, with the exception of Makhalina as the Siren. In short, nobody was supposed to know who danced what in Rotterdam. For a newcomer like Lobukhin this is especially important (according to the program it was Yakovlev who danced) and for a Festival which focuses so much on names, or at least one name in particular, it is surprising that no more effort is done to duly credit artists on stage.

The previous day Valery Gergiev conducted the Rotterdam Philharmonic in a concert performance of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Again, not the complete thing, but a Gergiev selection, highlighting if you ask me the loudest passages. It’s not the first time that local critics voice their concern about the decibels which Gergiev is so keen on producing during his recent concerts. In a not so distant past Gergiev released a justly acclaimed full length recording of the ballet. What we were served here seemed to come from a different world though. His main concern is seemingly to play as loud and as fast as possible. He constantly pushes his orchestra towards, and, frequently, over the edge. Pianissimi seem absent in this score and there is hardly time for lyricism. After the overture Gergiev immediately opened full throttle with the Street Fight, omitting Prokofiev’s careful buildup, while the “Dance of the Knights” came close to resembling Star Wars. We all know this is not a ballet performance (and thank heavens it wasn’t) but “Juliet Alone” (or Ulanova’s famous run towards friar Lorenzo) was handled so awkwardly it wouldn’t get anybody moving.

Maestro Gergiev now conducts with a toothpick (or a “satéprikker” as the Dutch say), so that the musicians should scrutinize him even more closely. His histrionics and hissing on the rostrum became close to caricature – “Leaping Lennie” would have laughed at it, but at least he knew where he was going.

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Obviously this is a rather tardy response, sorry.

I loved this performance of Prodigal Son, if only because I love Yulia Makhalina. Her siren really messed with my mind, if I may say so.

I have to confess I watched the opening duets mostly with my eyes closed. The dancers were clearly not used to a stage this small.

I thought Gergiev did a fine job with Prodigal Son. I was at a couple of symphonic concerts, too, and by now I'm pretty sure Gergiev is a great accompanying conductor, and a very iffy conductor when there are no singers, solists or dancers holding him back.

I had expected much from his Prokofiev Sixth symphony (my favorite), but it fell way short - though interestingly it wasn't too fast this time. V.G. had mixed the Rotterdam Phil and the Kirov Orchestra for this symphony and it didn't work out real well (no doubt due to lacking rehearsal time).

I'm curious what's going to happen dance-wise at the 2004 Gergiev Festival, which will be devoted to Tchaikovsky. All regular ballets are to big for the small (and lousy) Rotterdam Schouwburg stage - so perhaps we'll get a Bluebird and a grand pas de deux from the Nutcracker?


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