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Kirov in Berkeley: Fokine

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I'll have to agree with Clement Crisp's assessment of the Fokine ballets (in the Financial Times, posted on this board), especially of Scheherazde: "ridiculous staging in the highest style." I saw the Kirov on Tuesday night at Zellerbach. This was my first experience with Fokine, and quite a different lens than I'm used to viewing classical ballet through. Many of the forms & conventions Balanchine uses were in place, but here they were so modest and shy and prim--although beautifully danced (especially the pas de deux with Daria Pavlenko and Danila Korsuntev in the Prelude of Chopiana with wonderful lifts and her great stage presence). Gone was all the Mr. B's counterpoint, the rearticulation and development by the corps of gestures initiated by the leads or the secondaries; gone were the sharp edges--but this may be the difference in the Kirov style, which is willowier than New York City Ballet. Gone was the sexuality and the wit. But it was sweet and charming and high caloried in its own way.

Tatiana Amosova was a wonderful in Firebird--a hummingbird in her quick darts and short-wheelbased recoils and her hoverings. On Tuesday she filled in for Diana Vishneva and Saturday evening should be doing Rubies, which is something to very much look forward to.

The moonlighting Kirov orchestra was full and rich and played in stretches as if it were one big cello. There were no heart rendering individual solos such as you hear on old Russian Lps, and the Stravinsky could have been more angular. But was balanced and all over very satisfying (delicately meaty). And at times you didn't know whether to listen or to look.

Does anyone else have any impressions of the performances? And can anyone help me out with an approach to Fokine's work?

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It might be useful to think of Fokine's work as post-Petipa rather than pre-Balanchine...

Having said that, I should warn you that I'm not a historian, only a fan...but an opinionated one, so here are some further thoughts.

As I understand it, Fokine was aiming at a tighter, more coherent dramatic consistency within each ballet than he found in much of the previous generation's work...Theoretically it should be impossible to transfer a Fokine variation from one Fokine work to another (imagine a solo from Les Sylphides in the middle of Scheherezade). With all due respect to the unified architecture of a work like The Sleeping Beauty or the vision scene in Bayadere one can (and, historically, producers have) moved variations from one Petipa work to another, particularly some of his lesser works.

The unity of effect aimed at by Fokine involves the crystallisation of and commentary on a particular look or ideal -- say, the romantic ballet in Les Sylphides -- but it also involves the fusion of music and dance with sets and costumes. The ideal was not just a unity of vision but a totality of vision. New York City Ballet tried Les Sylphides without sets and costumes and the consensus was not that it looked more modern or less prim, but that it just looked wrong.

Fokine also wanted effects that we now might associate with character dancing or, more trivially, with a certain exoticism to be more authentic and more organically joined to the dramatic totality of the ballet. "Oriental" dancing wasn't supposed to just mean a few veils or turbans on top of classical steps and point shoes...Again, I would be wary of caricaturing the Petipa heritage, but the exoticism of a ballet like Scheherezade or even the pretend Russian fairy tale of Firebird -- an exoticism that may seem rather old-fashioned to a twenty-first century eye -- was trying to show a genuine kinetic connection to its sources. In all candor, the one time I saw Scheherezade, I thought it looked surprisingly classical and Petipa-esque, but I don't think it would have seemed that way to me in 1910! (It might help to think of modern painters' interest in, say, African masks...to us it may now seem like surface appropriation of effects that have been completely decontextualized, but it also enabled a certain type of experimentation within the heritage of western painting.)

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Welcome, Quiggin! Thank you for posting that. There are two ways (if not 99) to look at everything, and people can find "Scheherezade" silly or charming or once-revolutionary -- thank you Drew, for your post, which puts Fokine in context as well as anything I've read (and much better than I could have said it!)

The whole notion of after-Petipa/pre-Balanchine is a fascinating one. When I saw a tape of Spectre de la Rose immediately after seeing the Kirov's new/old "Sleeping Beauty" and realized that there was less than 20 years difference between the two, I was struck at how similar it was to Petipa in some ways -- not that far from the Bluebird, choreographically, although, of course, the context is different -- not a divertissement, a tiny story/poem.

We see almost nothing like Fokine today -- the whole Noverre line (anything that can be painted can be danced, unification of costume, decor, music, choreography) as well as the use of character and demi-caractere dancing -- is gone, or at least sleeping. Fokine is indeed very unlike Balanchine - he wanted rounded line, what he considered "natural" movement, and wasn't interested in experimenting with the body to see what it could do -- not interested in movement for its own sake, but in how to use movement to express something. The two political parties in ballet :)

I think it's great that you sensed there was something going on there that you might not be seeing. One of the big revelations for me was when I realized that, for Fokine (and for audiences of that day) the steps were private; people weren't concerned with the technical aspects of dancing beyond "wow! what a jump!" They were watching/seeing the expressive possibilities of movement. So from both sides -- stage and audience -- the context in which they were creating and watching is very different from today.

Did anyone else go? What did you think? Silly and old-fashioned? Of historical interest only? Rejuvenated and lively? Or something else entirely?

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Thanks, Drew and Alexandra for the comments and for filling in a lot for me. I do look at Fokine as a parallel development to Balanchine, both standing as interpreters of Petipa, and as different perhaps as Vuillard and Matisse or Juan Gris and Picasso (to Cezanne's Petipa?). I liked Alexandra's characterization of the sleeping Fokine school and its subtle interior conversations. Hopefully Friday, when I see Kirov's Jewels, I'll be able to differentiate the NYCB and Kirov styles and triangulate more of Petipa.

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I look forward to reading what you think of Jewels -- it won't look like NYCB, or SFB or MCB.

One might say that Balanchine went BACK to Petipa, leapfrogging back over Fokine. They're both branches of the same tree, of course, and Fokine was quite capable of formal choreography, but they operated from a different aesthetic. I don't think Fokine thought he was a reinterpreter of Petipa -- he was leapfrogging back to an older tradition there, too (the Romantic ballet on the one hand, and the ideas of Noverre on the other).

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I'd also add a question/topic -- what matters is what works on the stage. If what's on stage is dead, then all the history in the world won't matter.

This is another problem for dancers, audiences, and artistic directors -- how much can one expect the audience to know? How much baggage can we bring to the theater? And even if we KNOW the history, if we don't feel it, if the aesthetic is completely foreign to us, how can we appreciate it?

One answer is to see what's there, that we can then -- is the dancing good, for some people; or the spectacle, the costumes, the whole picture. And maybe on a second viewing it will seem different -- and maybe it won't.

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Although belated - thought I'd pass along some impressions from opening

night Fokine program in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. I saw 3 of the Kirov

performances (1 Fokine; 2 Jewels); as well as Bayadere in LA. And this weekend

will get another Jewels dose...after that I hock all my furniture.

The opening night Fokine program was wonderful - the absolute highlight for me (as well as almost everyone else judging by the chorus of bravos ringing out in the hall) was the Sheherazade, so I'll mainly report my impressions of that particular piece. The opening Chopiniana like a calling card - sort of like introducting the members of the team (well, mostly female members, that is, except for the noble Danila Korsuntsev). The piece did feel at first a bit like a warm-up, but the dancers quickly settled in. Actually, I liked easing into the evening with this piece. I enjoyed the familiarity of the Chopin waltzes, and I appreciated the delicary of the piece. In particular, it was a pleasure to see the wonderful corps.

But it was in the middle piece, Sheherazade, that the company, sprung fully to red-blooded life. Here was a performance in which everything came together - music, dance, drama, spectacle. It was showy, gaudy, lascivious and quite unembarrassed about being so - it was also breath-taking, superbly danced, and ultimately, moving. For some reason, critics in the west always feel the need to apologize for this piece - is it hokey, excessive? Perhaps, but so are at least half of the world's greatest operas (I love opera as well as dance). And, for me, what counts is what the performers bring to the piece; how much they invest in it and are able to carry us along with them for the ride. What a ride we got that first night with Uliana Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky! THe moment Zelensky burst onto the stage - like a tiger let out of his cage - he had us in thrall to him. Huge, beautifully placed leaps and spins, all done with supreme machismo and danger (on at least 3 occasions I thought he couldn't possibly stop before in landed in the musician's pit).

Then there was Lopatkina. I have been waiting years to see her dance after reading about her performances in the late 90's in St. Pete's, London, etc. She seems less well-known in this country than some of the other Kirov ballerinas (such as Vishneva and Zakharova) - but I put this down to her having not

performanced in the last 1-2 years; the SF Chronicle reviewer identified her as Tckachenko! (It was on this website that I learnt that she'd had a child, which explained the absence) She has that something special that marks her undeniably as a star. Glorious elongated body, sinuous moves, with arms fluttering like ribbons, beautiful extensions, wonderfully dramatic. She's got it all. I found her utterly mesmerizing to watch. She and Zelensky looked brilliant together, and were so sexily matched that it would have been unnatural if the two of them *weren't* carrying on together!

Aiding and abetting them on opening night was Valery Gergiev, who created a more lyrical rendering than that on his recording, and coerced gorgeous sounds

from the orchestra. (Too bad Zellerbach Hall's acoustics aren't more favorable

to orchestras, though). What a treat to have a world-class orchestra in the pit. On opening night Mikhael Agrest conducted the Chopiniana; Gergiev the remainder of the program. This the best ballet orchestra I've ever heard, which isn't surprising since the regular (concert and opera) Kirov Orchestra is out of this world.

Talk about an embarassment of riches. The Bakst-designed set with its Arabian Orientalism was gorgeous to look at, as were the costumes.

The final piece, 'Firebird', was fantasy and spectacle, and an enjoyable way to

end the evening, although it was hard to top the Sheherazade. Tatiana Amosova expertly danced the role of the Firebird, but I missed the extra edge that a Vishneva (who was originally scheduled to dance) would likely have brought to the role.

Great corps, wonderful partnering.

On Friday and Saturday - I saw Jewels; then most recently Bayadere (a superb Vishneva; with Sarafanov in virtuosic form, but his partnering made me anxious - and again those glorious Shades...) But I think this post is long enough (apologies for that), so won't go into detail here. But I will say that (again) the highlight for me in Jewels was seeing Lopatkina, wonderfully partnered by Korsuntsev in the Saturday Diamonds. That said, perhaps Emeralds will grow on me (after I see it yet again in Costa Mesa), but Diamonds is what sends me out the theatre floating.

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Thanks for that wonderful post, Millamant -- Yes, I too wonder what Firebird would have been like with Vishneva. She is fantastically gifted.

Re Fokine and Petipa -- in 1905, when Fokine led the dancers out on strike, one of their demands was for the RETURN of Petipa. They really did respect him enormously.

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Poor old Petipa lived on in forced retirement until 1910. One of the tragic outfalls of that strike was the suicide of Sergei Legat, when he couldn't persuade the dancers to return. :wacko:

I'd like to see some more Fokine about, though, not just the Sylphides, Polovtsi, Arabs and Ancient Russians contained in the standard survival versions. I wonder, for example, if anybody alive today would remember "Les Elves", set to the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto?

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Thanks for the review, Millamant. It doesn't matter how long it is and we are all eagerly awaiting your comments about La Bayadère and Jewels :). I saw Vishneva on several occasions as the Firebird, first in 1997 and last time last year. I always found she only skims the surface of this role and never caught the fairytale aspect. The edge and a lot more could be found with dancers like Asylmuratova, Shapchits, Nioradze (sorry folks :wacko:), and come to think of it, even Volochkova was not a bad Firebird way back in 1995.

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