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Mariinsky London performances 7/27-7-28-06

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Mariinsky, London (Coliseum) Thur. 27 July

Thursday was the second night of the Shostakovich on Stage dance section with a mixed bill of three works.

The works were choreographed in 1961 and 1962; I wonder if these were good years for wine.

The first work, The Young Lady and the Hooligan, choreo. Konstantin Boyarsky (62), was described in a booklet distributed in theatres and funded by the Mariinsky Theatre Fund, as....”achingly funny, and just as achingly poignant....those performances will......give UK audiences a unique chance to enjoy the extraordinary comic flair of Mariinsky stars Igor Zelensky and Diana Vishneva....world famous for their virtuosity and rarely recognized for their equal talent to amuse.”

Unfulfilled promise. No Vishneva.

Igor Zelensky was extraordinarily virtuosic and expressive, in what I would describe as a melodramatic and sentimental work.

The lady, performed by Svetlana Ivanova, while technically proficient, made little of the expressive content of the role. She offered stereotypical mannerisms instead of any character delineation. One longed to know what Ms Vishneva would have done with the part.

Two other solo parts, one listed as A Guide (to what?) danced by Sergey Popov, and The Guide's Girlfriend danced by Tatiana Tkachenko were hard to fathom, and, remained for me, incomprehensible.

The choreography for the ensemble was simplistic and uninteresting. I'm ready for someone to tell me I didn't understand a subtle masterpiece by Boyarsky. So be it. It isn't.

Zelensky was terrific, nevertheless.

The Bedbug, subtitled a one-act comic ballet, I liked very much.

A zany pastiche to Shostakovich fragments, it had unflattering, but truly funny, costumes and choreography to match. I thought the 'character' choreography of Leonid Jakobson remained fresh.

Xenia Dubrovina as the first love interest of Prisypkin ( Andrey Ivanov) showed lovely line, except that the feet were always sickled.

Part of the comedic pulse derived from the repulsive costumes which, curiously, remained uncredited in the program. I admit outright I have no idea what the story is about. But I didn't feel I needed to, in order to enjoy the surreal events culminating in a wedding bed scene. With all the performers on it.

I found it truly enjoyable. (For the story one would need to read the play with the same name by V.Mayakovsky}. Mayakovsky himself, played by N. Naumov, appears in the ballet and guides us through the story -whatever that is. What I got from it is, boy meets girl, seduces her and abandons her, boy meets second girl, and marries her. Ivanov in false nose is brilliant as the little guy-hero (anti-hero?) who finds true love the second time around (Yana Selina as Elzevira Renaissance).

This is only one opinion. My companion found the Jakobson choreography boring. I liked the surreality of it all.

The third work, Belsky's Leningrad Symphony set to The seventh symphony's first movement, commemorates the siege of Leningrad and the city's famous struggle against the foe. Great themes don't always make great ballets.

Lopatkina led the women of the city. Her dancing was strong but lacked the 'soul' of her classical roles, and a sense of deep-felt spontaneity of response.

The ballet belongs to Igor Kolb whose virtuosity served to create a heroic portrait of national resistance.

Belsky's repetitive steps for the ensembles didn't add to the power residing in the score of Shostakovich.

All works were applauded profusely. The conductor, Tugan Sokhiev, did well by Shostakovich.

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Mariinsky London Coliseum 7-28-06

The Golden Age


Old Sophie Gabriella Komleva

Old Alexander Sergey Berezhnoy

Sophie Daria Pavlenko

Alexander Mikhail Lobukhin

Vladimir Islom Baimuradov

Heinrich Dmitry Pykhachev

Olga Ekaterina Kondaurova

Sophie's mother Elena Bahzenova

Sophie's father Vladimir Ponomarev

Friend of Sophie Olesya Novikova

Friend of Sophie Ekaterina Petina

Mr von Klein Andrey Ivanov

Mrs von Klein Alisa Sokolova

Acrobats Svetlana Ivanova, Yulia Kasenkova, Anna Lavrenenko,Elena Shesina,

Anton Boitsov, Maxim Tchashhegerov

Good news: The Golden Age ballet that London saw last evening, is not the ballet St. Petersburg

saw last month.

Reports had it, including the review of Catherine Pawlick, that the work St. P. saw was 10% dancing and 90% mime.

London saw a ballet whose first two acts were virtually pure classic/neoclassic dancing, seemingly flowing from the musical sections of the Shostakovich score. The London version has abridged the work: the performance running time was two and one half hours, including two intermissions.

The third act appears to remain as the first version; it is somewhat disparate from the other acts, and takes place in an intermediate period (1945) with mimed scenes of WWII historical events for the most part.

One can only guess that, in the preparation of a work with two stage directors, one choreographer and one librettist, there may have been questions of differing emphases. After the dozen or so negative reviews in the St P press of the first version, the director/choreographer may have had the chance to introduce his vision for the work: that of a danced ballet, rather than the originally premised mime ballet.

Whatever the factual events that led to the change, we now have the first two acts literally packed with dancing, and for that matter dancing of the first rank, suitable for the Mariinsky company.

The movements are fresh, allied closely to their aural sources, so they appear inevitable –as good dancing does.

There remains a disjunction between the first two acts and the third act, in that the third act shifts focus to larger-scaled events. The third act deals largely with mimed tableaux of WWII events:

mass execution of prisoners, deportations. The only scene that deals with cast characters is the death scene of Valdimir, who, before dying, kisses Alexander on the lips to let him know of his same-sex love for him. Alexander, first in shock, wipes his mouth, indicating non-acceptance of his friend's passion. (This scene is one that's way too long. It reminds one of Soviet-era death scenes, as in R&J) The third act closes with a scene of Sophie and Alexander today, some seventy years after their first meeting. The program notes say: “...they discover it is never too late to begin living again”.

Better news: Noah Gelber has created choreography that shows the dancers at their best.

The duets of Pavlenko and Lobukhin are the soloist highlights of the ballet. Each pdd is a pas d'action that advances the story line and yet remains newly minted classic dance.

The first-act duet in the athletic field involved little body contact, but is filled with emotional content (they have their first photograph taken together).

The second act pdd has Pavlenko in a long fitted white gown and is full of daring lifts that take the breath away with their pulsive beauty that suggest emotional abandon. Pavlenko is simply an amazing dancer for the full protraits she creates on stage. Lobukhin gives the kind of support in double work that lets you know everything is secure. He is such a self-effacing dance. A true noble.

Another most welcome addition to the ballet repertory are the ensemble pieces for the male athletes. They show the men to advantage. The horizontal and vertical attacks of space create silhouettes' afterimages of great grace and power. The use of batterie, quatre, cinq, six, looked newborn after their notable absence in other contemporary choreographies. Bravo Gelber!.

(And bravi to athletes Maxim Eremeev, Dmitry Ermakov, Eduard Gusev, Vasily Scherbakov, Fillip Stepin, Alexey Timofeev, Andrey Ushakov, Konstantin Zverev).

Minuses: The third act needs to tie better with the personal stories told in the first two acts. The larger matters of the war, of course impact on the lives of the principal characters. Ballet deals better with people than with events. The third act needs work.

Pluses: The Mariinsky has two outstanding acts to Shostakovich's Golden Age. Shostakovich's ballet music has so far been denied a major permanent place in the ballet canon. Let's hope this time the third act can be fixed so that the Mariinsky has a contemporary 3-act ballet that does justice to its superb dancers and the 20th c. music of Shostakovich.

PS I've left out so much about the dancers, like the wonderful divertissement of the acrobats

in commedia del'arte costumes. A dazzling pure-dance piece. The entire company was excellent, including the four children from an SP school.

PSS Clement Crisp told me his GA review will appear next Tuesday in Financial Times.

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Minuses: The third act needs to tie better with the personal stories told in the first two acts. The larger matters of the war, of course impact on the lives of the principal characters. Ballet deals better with people than with events. The third act needs work.
I've never seen a ballet version of Anna Karenina, but as I (slowly) read the novel, I continuously think about what would not translate to ballet. (Levin's philosophizing and treatises on farming are one example.) Last night I was thinking about how the entire section on war in War and Peace should be a similar casualty. It sounds like the same should be done for Golden Age, although that wouldn't be authentically Soviet.

Does the music for Act III lend itself to the more personal, or would it sound bombastic and out-of-place needing different edits? Seattle saw a revival of Val Caniparoli's The Bridge, also set to Shostakovich, in which five incarnations of the same historical couple give very personal takes on a war-time situation, with only a few literal reactions to the actual fighting (ducking for cover, getting shot).

Thank you for the review, chiapuris. It's great to hear that Acts I and II are so rich.

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I guess it's a good thing that we don't all share the same opinions - it makes for variety.

I saw two performances of the mixed bill which came as a reminder of the constraints under which artists operated at that time in the Soviet Union. I also recalled that only a few years later the Bolshoi had to hurridly disinterr its old production of Swan Lake for a tour to London because Grigorovitch's 'new' production failed to gain approval from the Ministry of Culture. So at a time when the Royal Ballet companies for instance, were presenting The Invitation, The Two Pigeons and Persephone, Soviet choreographers had to keep to a very limited, party approved, set of subjects.

The Young Lady and the Hooligan is a perfect example of this with it's Virtuous Soviet Maiden as heroine. But unlike Chiapuris I found Ivanova really charming. She found more variation in the character than I would have thought possible, she has a winning personality and the most beautiful feet. But I certainly agree that Zelensky was fantastic and so much faster than the other men in the company.

I saw the programme twice; Bedbug didn't make much sense to me first time - although it's certainly lively. I then researched the play and the background to the ballet before the Thursday show, but was no more enlightened as to what was supposed to be happening. (Incidentally, I suspect Zoya's sickled feet are part of the choreography.)

Leningrad Symphony was the piece with which I am most familiar having first seen it more than 30 years ago with Soloviev and Komleva. Problem is, if you saw Soloviev no one else comes up to that standard and I thought Igor Kolb fell far short. He's a gifted and sincere dancer, but I don't find him the Russian Hero type at the best of times and especially not this week when he sported a dubiously orange rinse and funny facial hair. Lopatkina danced nicely, as one would expect, but I found too many "ballerina" manerisms.

The Golden Age I also saw twice and having read about the circumstances under which Noah Gelber made the ballet I have the greatest admiration for what he has achieved. It's a thoroughly entertaining piece and he tells the story and characterises the protagonists very clearly.

Some of the choreography is a bit pedestrian, but I very much liked the soccer match - the man next to me commented "why no goalkeepers?" - and I thought the social dancing was very well done, especially Sophie's attempts to teach Alexander to dance. Less successful I thought was a cabaret number for "acrobats" and I thought a drunk scene for a group of young girls was a bit dubious.

Again contrary to Chiapurus, I thought the last act was the strongest, especially at the later performance when the projections worked properly and the lighting was improved. I thought the duet for Alexander and his dying friend Vladimir was fine and very moving, and although I looked hard, I saw no signs of The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name! (Nor did my husband, incidentally).

The real tear jerking scenes came from Komleva and Berezhnoy as the old lovers. They were wonderful, full of emotion but beautifully restrained. They really deserved their final curtain call. Both performances I saw were very warmly received and I hope the piece lasts beyond the Shostakovitch celebrations. It deserves to.

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Ismene Brown's review of Golden Age appeared yesterday.

I would most definitely put her assessment in the negative column.

I'm still waiting for Zoe Anderson's (The Independent),

who had strong negative feelings for the triple mixed bill.

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(Incidentally, I suspect Zoya's sickled feet are part of the choreography.)

Alymer, of course the sickled feet are part of the choreography. That's why I mentioned it.

Consistently Zoya's feet were turned in when standing and sickled off the ground.

I admired the dancer (X D) for carrying out the choreography so diligently during her entire appearance!

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I read several reviews of the Golden Age today, Clement Crisp in Financial Times, Zoe Anderson in The Independent, The Times Review (her name escapes me); all of them extremely negative about the production and the choreography. They all felt sorry for the dancers involved.

I still think some of the choreography was good.

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Hi Natalia. I certainly very much respect your opinions and that of the other well known ballet commentators who share your opinions. I also very much respect chiapuris' opinions and other similar opinions that I have read. I guess it is up to each of us to make up our own mind with due respect and reference to other's impressions.

A few comments from John Percival.

"...altogether a very warm audience response. We are talking about "The Golden Age"..."

Of historical interest. "None other than Galina Ulanova who danced the lead in it, told me that the first "Golden Age" was actually rather good..."

"Two things I especially admired about Gelber's staging--developed in conjunction with young theatre director Andrey Prikotyenko--are the skill with which he organizes many large and varied ensembles, and the clarity with which he tells a somewhat complex story."


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My brief review of 'Golden Age': Quite simply, the worst so-called "ballet" by a major troupe that I have witnessed in my 50 years on earth.

Clearly Natalia never saw MacMillan's "Isadora".

I wouldn't be sure of that -- sometimes the discussions over the worst are a hard-argued as discussions over the best :blush:

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