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Kirov's Sleeping Beauty/opening night

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I won't go into detail -- aside from the fact that it's late, I'm reviewing the cast changes.

I'll just say I was very glad to see the production and fell in love with Petipa all over again. I loved the sets and costumes, and I loved the mime (oodles and oodles of mime) as well as the processions. I'm happy to see every single thing that's been cut over the years.

We've posted this link before, but for those who are interested in how this production differs from other Kirov productions, there's a superb article by Doug Fullington on Marc Haegeman's site (check the site for info and photos of Kirov dancers, too smile.gif ):


I hope some of you will get to go -- it is sold out now. Please post if you do.

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I attended the opener last night. I've seen this glorious production many times, since it was introduced to the West in the June 1999 NYC-Met engagement. I've already described umpteen details in a lengthy review on Ballet.co.uk (posted in June 1999 - Bruce Marriott has archived it), so please go there if you wish to read about itsy-bitsy production details.

Gorgeous company; gorgeous ballet!

Diana Vishneva's Aurora is the glory of the Russian ballet! As Aurora, Vishneva radiates warmth & love from her very first entrance down the palace steps to the courtyard. She was perfect last night in the Rose Adagio (excellent balances performed calmly, serenely), without the straining hyperextensions of some of her colleagues. She even overcame shoddy partnering from one of the four princes (the youngest - Firsov?), who almost let go of her in a pirouette. Her three big solos -- one each in Acts I, II & III -- were crystal-pure; the audience 'oohed-and-ahhhed' at the developees in her Act II (Dream Scene) variation. I felt totally at-ease watching Diana Vishneva throughout the ballet & could delight in her artistry. An Aurora for the ages.

A note on Vishneva's physical changes during the past year or so: Her physical beauty remains incomparable...but I wish that she had not changed her alluring raven haircolor to coppery-red! [Even if it was a wig, never before have I seen her dance this role with anything BUT her naturally-black haircolor! Her look was Fonteyn-extraordinary before. Go back to the black hair, Diana!] I was especially pleased to see that she has regained the sleek & ultra-slim (yet athletic-healthy-looking) physique that I remember from her 1995 graduation performances through about 1997, before she became more hourglass-shaped. The hourglass is now gone; Vishneva is sleek perfection now, in my book. Can't wait to see the 'new Diana' in Rubies tomorrow night.

Igor Kolb's Prince Desire, while nicely danced, was less-than-princely. As much as I admire Kolb's technique, delectably-arched feet, and gracious personality, I simply cannot appreciate him as a 'danseur noble.' I even failed to realize the prince's arrival on the stage during the Act II Hunt Scene until he began to shoot the arrows! Uh...let's see, that LOOKS like Desire's red jacket & curly wig but..no...is it the Prince? To his credit, Kolb delivered a light and airy Act III solo that garnered robust applause from the audience.

Veronika Part's Lilac Fairy was danced and mimed with majesty. Her upper body has - ahum - blossomed considerably since I last saw her in London. The altered physique works here; she looks very Maria Petipa-esque in those costumes now, so more power to her. I'm not sure if the 'new look' will work in the ethereal second-ballerina role of 'Emeralds,' which I have adored in the past. We'll see tonight, when 'Jewels' opens & she dances her waltz solo.

My long-time-favorite mime in the world, Vladimir Ponomariev, was his wonderful hammy self as King Florestan, this time making googly-eyes at a younger queen, the glamorous Elena Bazhenova. I must admit that he was even hammier &, thus, funnier (for me) when his consort was Nina Borchenko, who did not make this tour. [About 89 Kirov dancers are here for the ballet season, out of 150-plus dancers in the company. Many famous soloists - Lopatkina, Makhalina, Ivanchenko, Thomas, etc. -- are dancing in Don Quixote, Giselle or Romeo & Juliet back home.]

But even Ponomariev was not the 'top mime' on stage last night. I reserve that honor for Andrei Yakovlev as Catalabutte, the master of ceremonies who loses his red locks early-on. What an artist, this Yakovlev! I delighted in his carefully crafted characterization, replete with subtle comic details. Some 100 people on stage but my eyes honed in on his funny shenanigans & exchanges with the herald. I was so grateful for my close-up seat last night, as I'll be sitting up in 2nd tier the rest of the run & won't be able to admire Yakovlev-Catalabutte so up-close-and-personal. Bravo, Yakovlev!!!!

The absolute-highlight among the soloist men -- waking up the sleepy audience to huge applause -- was Vitaly Scherbakov as Bluebird. This very-young-looking lad SOARED! His Princess Florine was Natalia Sologub.

The playbill listed 'Irina Golub' as the Diamond Fairy & I was so looking forward to seeing her in a big solo, as I have grown to admire this very young soloist since I saw her in NYC in Jan 1998 with a group of Vaganova students. So you can imagine my surprise when -- unannounced during the breaks or in the programme -- out comes veteran Elvira Tarassova as Diamond! Tarassova did a commendable job, a fine classicist as always...but my eyes were riveted to the beauty & magnificence (positions, technique, drop-dead-gorgeous face & flashing eyes] of the girl dancing Gold Fairy in the background. Who is she, this miracle? Wow! I looked in my programme after the show - it is an 'unknown' named Viktoria Tereshkina. Remember the name. She is slated to dance Diamond Fairy in the Sunday matinee. [Does anybody know when she graduated? Must have been in the last year or two.]

Among the five Prologue fairies (beside Lilac), I most admired Xenia Ostreikovskaya's languidly-danced Fairy Candide (the first solo; silvery-grey tutu). Ostreikovskaya is a magnificent artist who may very well become an Aurora some day! The other fairies were:

Fleur de Farine - Maya Dumchenko, always beautiful

Breadcrumb - Elena Yukhovskaya (a petite newcomer who had nice moments but seemed to be essaying the solo for the first time

Violante - Irina Zhelonkina - a true classisist...seemed tired...or troubled..or both, last night. Not into it at all. Too bad.

Canari - adorable Yana Selina, in a role that she has made her own through the years. [selina was also a stand-out among the fairy-tale characters in the final act, as the White Cat, with Kirill Simonov a total 'hoot' as Puss-in-Boots. Audience loved them!]

The corps de ballet was its usual impeccable self, especially those beautiful nymphs in Act II. I delighted in all of them & was especially admiring of Tatyana Nekipelova, one of Inna Zubkovskaya's protegees from the Vaganova class of '96. I hope that Nekipelova gets to reprise her demisolo role in the female quartet in 'Diamonds'...nobody dances that section with such gusto & Russian-Imperial spirit!

The children were very well rehearsed & great fun to watch. Students from the Washington School of Ballet, they are, by far, the best group of 'guest kids' (non-Vaganova Academy) that I've seen in these ensembles (I compare with NYC 1999 & London in August 2000; Vaganova Academy was in the June segment of the 2000 London run). I bet that, after the show, the Kirov coaches gave the Washington children notes regarding the "Look-Ma! I'm dancing!"-type grins at their families in the audience, when they should have sported Mariinsky-aristocratic-aloofness instead. Those little cherubs in Lilac Fairy's boat are cute...but they should have remained completely still. Oh, well - they did a superb job overall. Bravo, children!

I was disappointed in the 'flatness' of the sleepy audience (at least in center-orchestra section, where I was) & the lack-of-raport with what-was-going-on up on the stage, during much of the show. Perhaps they were waiting for more dancing in the Prologue? They warmed up by Act III & delivered a standing ovation at the end, with multiple 'bravos' for Vishneva & Kolb. [This appeared to be a 'more senior,' well-heeled audience in pearls & Channel suits....I do miss the gusto of NYB-Met audiences or the adoring Russians in the Mariinsky audiences. smile.gif ]

Welcome to Washington, Kirov Ballet! Ochien rada vudiet vas! Make yourselves at home, now & for the following nine Februaries (at least). And - most importantly - Gracias/Spasibo/Thank You to Alberto Vilar for making it all possible!

[ February 13, 2002: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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A few notes. I adored Veronika Part (Lilac Fairy). I loved her creaminess and the graciousness of her dancing.

I agree with much of what Jeannie wrote and was also very disappointed with the rather reserved audience. But I was very happy to see several dancers there, as well as some of our modern dance choreographers! This was an event!!! If there were any government people there, though, I missed them.

A colleague who'd seen the production in New York said that the dancing and miming was generally more in period style and that the lighting was better, or at least brighter, here than it had been in New York. I loved seeing the detail in the fairies variations -- although the stage is smaller than the dancers are used to, it's an intimate house, and I think we're very lucky to see the production here.

My only disappointment was in the leads. For me, Vishneva isn't ideally cast as Aurora; she's more a Princess Florine. She reminds me of Makarova --in the sense that she's in the Makarova, rather than Kolpakova/Lezhnina, "line" or employ--although I don't think she's nearly as strong technically, nor as musical. I found Vishneva very contemporary, and thus a bit out of style with the production -- I'm looking forward to seeing her in "Rubies," which, by rights, should have been Makarova's role! But I've seen stronger Auroras, in this company and others. I didn't see a "build" from act to act, and so I didn't think she crowned the ballet. That said, Vishneva's third act pas de deux was quite good, I thought. I'm getting the sense more and more, from companies all over the world, that solos and pas de deux are coached and coached and rehearsed (in those companies that still rehearse, of course) -- but in separate little rooms, miles from where the other rehearsals take place, and so the variations seem separate from the ballet, as though the dancers are bussed in as guest stars for the occasion, rather than emerging, triumphant, from a ballet's very fabric.

I heard several conflicting comments about Vishneva during the intermission -- which is a good sign, I think. (Remembering our own little discussion of La Lacarra here, if a ballerina can draw strong opinions, something interesting is going on.) My favorite was from, first, a man obviously smitten, "I *love* Vishneva, don't you just love her???" Man 2, not smitten, replied: "Love her? I don't even like her!"

I found Kolb underpowered in every way. Like Jeannie, I missed his entrance. I missed him in the pas de deux, too smile.gif I kept waiting for the real Prince to come on. The Countess was rather underplayed as well.

The ballet itself is so strong, it hardly mattered. The King was glorious, a great mime -- watch his hands. The other mimes were fine, too, from Catalabutte down to the Herald. I was mildly disasppointed in Carabosse. (It's hard to get over Monica Mason in this role; I want, if not evil, at least the sense of a dangerous presence.) But it was interesting to see Carabosse danced so clearly -- it's a mime, not a dancing role, but there is a particular stance and walk of Carabosse and that was done beautifully, I thought. I also like the way the Prince modestly stands off to the side during the Awakening scene. It makes the ballet about dynasty, not puppy love. Everyone in this ballet has a role to play in the grand, cosmic scheme of things; it's not personal, but far beyond that.

I thought the corps did a fine job. It's refreshing to see Act II danced in tutus (green, floppy, bouncy ones) and not nymph-nighties, and the dancing was appropriately crisp. (I kept thinkiing it was the salad course between the white meat and the red.) I loved the small footwork in the character and court dances. The production is a reminder of how much has been airbrushed out of classicism over the past 100 years. Put it back!

This was the perfect start to our new ten-year relationship, a wonderful introduction to the company. "Sleeping Beauty" is not only one of the greatest ballets in history but is, arguably, the most influential ballet. It is the well from which 20th classicism sprung, and to which it must return periodically to be refreshed. The Diaghilev production was the first great revival, the old Royal Ballet production, that dominated the Western world for the next 20 years, the second. I think this is the third great revival and I hope it will have the same influence as its two predecessors.

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I forgot to add two small, but very important (to me) things:

One, I have never seen the reverence performed so beautifully. I've never noticed it in Sleeping Beauty before (this may well be me) but it was there last night over and over and I never grew tired of it.

Two, epaulement, especially in the fairies, and especially in the jewels pas de quatre.

Well, hell, three. The character divertissements were very well done and I was delighted to finally see the Cinderella and Hop o My Thumb divertissements.

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Epaulement...reverence...Alexandra, you have touched on two movements that are representative of the term 'Aristocratic Bearing.' And is there a ballet troupe on earth that is more 'to the manor born' than the Mariinsky-Kirov, the heirs to the Russian Imperial ballet tradition? That is why imported guests -- be they big-name-soloists or auxiliary corps members or mere 'supers' -- stick out like sore thumbs when populating the stage of Mariinsky-Kirov Petipa ballets. One either has "it" or does not. To the manor born. When I attend a Mariinsky-Kirov 'Sleeping Beauty' performance, I am transported to the the most beautiful Palace of Dance - to the Temple of Art. God Bless the Mariinsky-Kirov Ballet and Long may they reign!

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Jeannie, I think you have touched on something very important. I agree not only that the Kirov has aristocratic bearing, but that guest stars -- any dancer not brought up in the house -- will stick out like a sore thumb. (I did miss that, in the touring production, of necessity we'll get hastily trained resident supers and children.)

This leaves the Kirov and Paris Opera as the only two companies who still maintain a closed house. Long may THAT continue. (I know that the Kirov imports people trained in Perm, as POB has taken in dancers from the Conservatoire, but they're close enough to the native training system that there's no stylstic jarring.)

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Thanks for your reviews, Jeannie and Alexandra. I love this sumptuous production of Beauty; I saw every single performance of Beauty that the Kirov danced in London in 2001 and 2000. I remember that Robert Greskovic called it "the flagship of all Beauties" in the Wall Street Journal. I miss the Kirov so much. There's no other company in the world which I adore more!

[ February 14, 2002: Message edited by: Kevin Ng ]

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Thank you all for the wonderful reviews. Some quick questions. Do they stage the Panorama scene? Do they travel with full orchestra like they did at the Met or they use KenCen in-house orchestra? Who are the conductors for the run? I know Valery Gergiev is busy at the Met with their co-production of "War and Peace", how about Gianandrea Noseda?

Kevin, I understand how you feel. Me too.

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Mussel, there's no Panorama scene, and they don't play the music. The story that the scenery is bolted to the stage, or can't travel for some reason seems odd -- does every other production at the Kirov use the Panorama scene? If it's permanently affixed, what do they do with it when they're not Sleeping Beautying? There is definitely a gap in the production because of it. No fighting off evil rats and nasty fairies (but this Carabosse is barely there anyway). Just one minute, we're in the forest somewhere, and the next, we're in a room somewhere else.

They don't have their orchestra. They have the Kennedy Center orchestra. It's not a real orchestra, but a group of musicians brought together to play for ballets (operas? musicals?) and that's just what it sounds like.

I don't have my program and so can't give you the conducotr's name -- I'm sure Jeannie will know it smile.gif

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I’m delurking after a long time because I’m so excited about Tuesday night’s performance. I’ve seen this production once before, at the Met in 1999, when I didn’t like it. Maybe it was having to stand for four hours that made me grumpy, but Tuesday (when I was seated, and close up in the orchestra), I mostly loved it.

The best thing, overall, for me was the truly grand scale of the production. This is what writers have always said about this ballet, but the productions I’ve seen—with the slight exception of NYCB’s—have all been trim, compact affairs, built to move from city to city. I don’t know where the Kirov found the money to pay for this production, but thank heavens it did.

The costumes struck me as ugly in 1999, but on second view I like them better. They are certainly not in the current style: the colors and patterns clash, and when the stage was crowded (which was most of the time), I felt blinded by the glare. But I liked the cut of the tutus, which were big but more softly draped than the ones that are the norm today. They moved gently with the dancers rather than sticking out awkwardly the way today’s umbrella-like skirts do. And the sets were gorgeous, the best I’ve seen since Makarova’s Bayadere. Unlike the costumes, they looked as though they’d been designed yesterday.

One thing I especially liked was their use of children. They were all over the ballet, in every scene, but there was nothing at all cute about them. Rather, they came across as fresh, charming, and poignant. It was interesting to see the human frieze of cupids and cherubs looking down at the newlyweds in the Wedding scene: this must have been where Balanchine made his stage debut (he said he was a cupid in Beauty, and I’ve always wondered how they fit that into the ballet).

Okay, the dancing. Generally very good. Vishneva looked great, especially in the Wedding pas de deux. The other classical variations were handled well; I liked the Sapphire and Gold fairies, though Sapphire showed a marked sluggishness in allegro. The Canary variation was danced, thank heaven, in strict classical style, without all the cutesiness that most companies go in for. (The Kirov has not always danced it this way; in 1989 the dancer—same one in every performance—hammed it up dreadfully.) I was a bit disappointed in Maya Dumchenko, who had jumped out at me in 1999 as a beautiful exemplar of pure Kirov style. She wasn’t bad on Tuesday, just not any better than the other first act fairies. Above all, it was a great pleasure to see the richness and depth of the Kirov’s dancing. The beauty goes beyond épaulement, but I don’t know what it is—this is where my ignorance of technique lets me down. Non-Russian dancers tend to dispatch their variations with brisk efficiency, concentrating on momentum rather than luxuriating in the many-faceted beauties of each movement.

Best of all was Igor Petrov, the Carabosse. Unlike the other male Carabosses I’ve seen, Petrov played the role absolutely straight, without any camp or even humor. He was one cold, bitter fairy, and really scary. The success of his performance was proven, I think, by the good-natured boos that accompanied his final bow. He really got the audience into the spirit.

Now, as to Mr. Kolb. I have no idea why the company chose to dress him up in the second act the way they did. Those long, curly blond locks and big mustache made him look like a ridiculous fop. When he first came out, to the Prince’s music, I thought, “Surely not.” Like Jeannie and Alexandra, I kept waiting for the Prince to come out, and only realized, reluctantly, when all the dancers were onstage, that this Groucho Marx-type was really supposed to be Desiré. He looked like a joke! In the Awakening scene, when he scurried off to a corner after kissing Aurora, and she woke up alone and ran around waking up members of the court, I started to laugh to myself, thinking, “Just wait till she gets a look at her prince! She’ll wish it were Shrek!” Fortunately, he shed the false hair for the Wedding scene and looked quite normal. He danced very well, too, except for some perilous turns. But I don’t see him as a danseur noble, either, Jeannie.

Another great thing about this production is that the character divertissements in the Wedding scene are so much fun and so plentiful. I think those of us outside Russia have lost the innocence necessary to make them work.

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing the production again on Friday, but I’m devastated that I don’t have a ticket to Jewels. (The KC usually schedules things so that you get different bills on Tuesday and Friday nights, but not with this engagement.) I’ll be trying for a return tonight, but I don’t have much hope.

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Ari - You have me crying my mascara off with your 'Groucho Marx' comment! Good luck with a Jewels ticket tonight. Call the box office throughout the day, too, as folks turn-in an odd ticket here & there if friends cancel....subscribers can return tickets for tax deduction (if done before the show, of course). Call (202) 467-4600 for KennCen InstaCharge office. No waiting list - it's a 'luck-of-the-phone-call' thing.

Alexandra et. al. - Regarding the conductor - it's Boris Gruzdin, one of the Mariinsky Theater's regular conductors since 1992/93. Yes, it's the Kennedy Center Opera House orchestra...and they had quite a few snafoos on Tuesday night but the various soloists just kept dancing & the orchestra caught up.

I saw Valery Gergiev with Makhar Vasiyev & Olga Chenchikova, in the opening night. I could see when they left the backstage area & came out into the audience. Gergiev won't be conducting any of the ballet performances. He's conducting the gala on the 19th + all of the operas, save the 'Khovantschina' on the 21st. This guy is the Eveready Energizer Bunny of opera conducting. The thought of conducting a gala + 5 operas on consecutive nights in the same week, is incredible. And not just any little operas. 'Khovantschina' runs for 4.5 hours, employs massive chorus, includes the 'Persian Ballet'. This is Russian opera on a Wagnerian scale.

[ February 14, 2002: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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Small but, I think, important correction to Sarah Kaufman's review in today's Washington Post:

Altynai Assylmoratova did not dance Aurora in the US premiere of this production (during the 1999 Met season). That honor went to Svetlana Zakharova. Assylmuratova danced the 3rd cast - a Wednesday matinee. [Yes - bizarre but true.]

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I think Kaufman may have meant that the New York season (all performances) were the American premiere of the ballet, and the performance she saw was danced by Asylmuratova. It wasn't clear, but sometimes thoughts get squished together in daily reviews, when two sentences have to become one because of space smile.gif That's just a guess, of course, but I've boxed myself in similar syntactical corners. (She wrote: "The Kirov presented its American premiere of this version two years ago in New York, with the glorious Altynai Asylmuratova in the title role.")

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I see, Alexandra. it certainly was worded (reworded by editor?) to imply that AA was "it"...the one-and-only, etc. The sad part -- and this is a more important fact than pointing out errors -- is that AA was given only 3rd cast...and a freakin' matinee, at that! Zakharova & Vishneva were given the first two evenings; Nioradze was given the final night. And here was the 'prima' ballerina (AA) relegated to the one matinee. Go figure...

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Originally posted by Ari:

I have no idea why the company chose to dress him up in the second act the way they did. Those long, curly blond locks and big mustache made him look like a ridiculous fop.

When I saw this production for the first time in London almost two years ago, I even mistook Galifron, the Prince's tutor for the Prince. It wasn't until the Vision scene that I started to realised that..ummm..a man in a big red jacket was in fact Prince Desire. wink.gif

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Juliet - I remember the handsome Zelensky as Desire. He was something else, wasn't he?! Wasn't his wig a big shorter & straighter than the one worn by the other Desires, though? Zelensky did not wear the extra-long/super-curly "Cowardly Lion" type of wig that is worn by Andrian Fadeev, Igor Kolb, et al.

Kirov principals tend to play around with & alter their costume accessories. They even tweak the actual costumes at times, e.g., Zhanna Ayupova's Rose Adagio tutu, in London 2000, sported a corsage of plastic-looking rosebuds pinned to one shoulder strap. Lordie, I felt like running on stage with a pair of scissors to clip them off! biggrin.gif

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