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Kirov Academy-DC Spring 2012

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Opening the thread to prepare for this upcoming week's performances of Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie-1967, Giselle Act II, Eli Lazar's Rossiniana premiere, etc.

As mentioned on another thread related to the Balanchine, the stagers are the originators of the leading roles at the New York City Ballet in '67 -- Mimi Paul and John Clifford. What a treat this must be for the students!

As prep, I've been studying the ca-1973 German-TV film of this ballet, starring Clifford and another female lead, Sara Leland (+ Merrill Ashley among the 4 demi solo corps girls!). It seems to be a tremendously brisk and tricky ballet; it doesn't help that the film was seemingly edited by a madman! In DC, it will be interesting to see how the top students of a Vaganova-style pre-professional school will tackle the lightning speed of this ballet. Until recently, the KAB year-end concenrts consisted of mainly Petipa-era and Soviet solos (when the Vinogradovs led the school).

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I've been attending KAB 'graduation/end-of-year performances' since the early '90s. My husband and I agree that last night's was one of the best ever, in quality of soloists and repertoire. No longer a long series of pretty little Petipa solos, pas de deux and trois -- NO 'FAIRY DOLL' this time - incredible! -- the academy has been morphing into a more 'inclusive' and modern establishment, embracing Balanchine and other styles besides Vaganova/Petipa. The teaching team of the first 15-20 years has long gone, although there is still a strong Russian presence but without the 'big Soviet star names' of the past.


The KAB performed the traditional Petipa-Mariinsky version of this ultimate 'ballet blanc' act. The corps of 24 Wilis practically stole the show with their uniform lyricism and strong technique, with minimal wobbles during the traveling arabesque sequence.

Riho Sakamoto -- still a year or two from graduating -- was, quite simply, one of the finest Giselles I've ever seen - technique, musicality, nuances, gorgeous feet, compact feminine line of the Evgenia Obraztsova variety. Riho Sakamoto is primed to 'wow' the ballet world, sooner than later!

2012 top male graduate, Alexei Babayev, was a tall, tark and handsome Albrecht, throwing caution to the wind on both the emotional and technical sides. A bit of untidiness is forgiven in exchange for passion, jumps and exceptional partnering....those two slow lifts in the 'meeting adagio' had the audience gasping!

Graduate Ayaka Fujii was a strong and authoritative Myrtha, in the tradition of Van Hamel and Terekhova. Saori Yamashita and Sakura Oka were both impressive in their demi-solo turns as Moyna and Zulma, respectively. Richard Foggio jumped as high as any Hilarion I've seen, during his Death Dance with the Wilis; Foggio would be even more impressive later as the lead male in Rossiniana (below).

Intermission 1

VALSE-FANTAISIE (1967 version)

What a thrill to finally see the 1967 Balanchine/Glinka Valse-Fantaisie live, as my only prior encounter has been via the choppy (not to say 'frenetic') 1973 German film of the NYCB. The KAB did the stagers, John Clifford and Mimi Paul, proud last night. This little 8-minute work shoots out of cannon and goes on 'non-stop' - high-flying allegro at its finest...and out of the cannon came two amazing soloists, Vivian Wang and the KAB's own Sarafanov: Tamoha Terada. Terada impressed by not only keeping up with the music while delivering Balanchine's aerial ricks and batterie cleanly....but also articulating the delicious little 'stops' and poses that we see Clifford perform in that 1973 movie. Terada -- with still a year left at the academy -- is so accomplished that he can play with the music (like another young Japanese lad I saw at the ABT Studio/JKO School performance in NYC last month, Shu). Also to be commended are the four demi-solo corps ladies with lovely petit batterie, Saki Kagawa, Sakura Ota, Julie Treleaven and Saori Yamashita. I also loved-loved-loved the soft-lilac romantic tutus and lilac hair adornments. This little ballet is an absolute gem in every respect!

'Pizzicato Polka' from SYLVIA (Lavrovsky/Delibes)

This lovely trifle from the Soviet canon, for six pre-teen girls (arranged as three hand-holding pairs) in pink classical tutus, gave us a chance to recover our breath from Valse-Fantaisie. The little ladies showed-off their precise pointe work with brio.

ROSSINIANA (World Premiere by guest choreographer Elie Lazar)

Having just seen ABT Studio Company/JKO School's rendition of Tudor's Soirees Musicales in NYC, I was almost expecting something very similar, with 19th-C period costumes. Instead, this was a sleek neo-classical work danced in stretchy black outfits, with choreography very much in the after-Balanchine mold. In addition to a long-and-lean lead star couple (Debora Davis and graduate Richard Foggio), the ballet featured a demi-solo trio of virtuoso men (Kyle Allen, Kota Fujishima and Ignacio Lopez Toral) and a corps of 8 ladies. The tall and elegant Foggio, in particular, really came into his own in this work. It was just the sort of pretty neo-classical ballet to tuneful music that shows-off young dancers' skills. [The familiar music seems to be from another Rossini suite, Matinees Musicales...but I need to double check...definitely not Soirees Musicales, as with the Tudor.]

Intermission 2


The perfectly-paced evening ended with a series of short center-work class displays by every KAB division, culminating with Partnering work. It afforded a peek at all of the current and graduating students, while dancing to mostly-Minkus and Drigo tunes played by the 'magical pianists' of the KAB, led by Regina Shestakova Martin (20+ yrs rehearsal pianist of the Kirov Ballet and Vaganova Academy). All dancers are to be commended but I especially loved a high-flying duet by the two KAB male hotshots -- Terada & Fujishima, who brought down the house! -- and an unusual performance of Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux female solo...by a dozen senior-class ladies, simultaneously. Kudos to the pedagogues who led the various classes in 2011/2012: Nikolai Kabaniev (boys & partnering classes), Elena Tenchikova (classes 3/4 and 7/8, the most sr girls), Mariana Lobanova (classes 1/2 and 5/6), Viktoria Yanchuk (Prep Ballet I & III) and Svetlana Kravtsova (Prep Ballet II).

A 'school academy recital' like no other. Bravi Tutti!

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p.s. Someone just sent me an email to point-out that Riho Sakamoto (our amazing Giselle last night) won the Gold Medal in the youngest division at the 2010 YAGP - the event featured in the recent documentary First Position. Riho won the gold in the same division in which the girl from Israel shown on the film, Gaya Bommer, won bronze:


Perhaps the most amazing revelation is that Riho was only 11 yrs in 2010...meaning that she must be 13 or 'barely 14' now. Whaaaat???? This just adds to the greatness of what we witnessed last night.

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I think Riho turned 14 in March. She came to KAB when she was 10! (Alex Babayev, Richard Foggio and Ayaka Fujii are seniors. they're going to the Pennsylvania Ballet 2 (Alex), Richmond Ballet 2 (Richard) and Hungarian National Ballet (Ayaka).

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Thanks for the insights, Alexandra. All the more amazing! Happy that the featured grads got jobs.

By the way, I am sorry to have missed the matinees, as they apparently featured more of the Petipa treasures. While I love the new 'inclusive maturity' of today's KAB with the Balanchines and neo-classics, I very much missed seeing such Russo-Soviet rarities from 'ye olde days' as Frescoes, Vestalka, Laurencia pas de six, Ocean and Two Pearls, Paquita...not enough classical tutus in the evening performance. But I did not miss Fairy Doll pas de trois...sorry to all Fairy Doll fans.

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Natalia!! (!!) I only now saw this thread. I was in DC that weekend, saw the Saturday matinee and Giselle that evening, was very very impressed with Riho's performance of Giselle! Had I only seen this thread or connected the dots, I could have seen you!

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