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Kirov Ballet - better or worse?

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As pointed out by Ari in the Links section there is a pretty rewarding take from the American side of the Atlantic ;) on the Kirov Ballet by Laura Jacobs in "The New Criterion". Although mostly based on the recent performances in New York, Ms. Jacobs observations also go back to previous engagements of the Kirov in the USA, which results in some thought-provoking comparisons.

Most recent articles about the Kirov seem dominated by one fundamental idea (and this piece by Ms. Jacobs is no exception), simply put: the Kirov under previous artistic director Oleg Vinogradov was mainly a slumbering, ancient Soviet troupe with uninteresting dancers (!), while now with Makharbek Vaziev in charge, the company is ready to face a new golden age, sublimated by the adoption of Balanchine.

Personally, I would be inclined to say that the current regime at the Kirov is basically a somewhat overblown continuation of the previous one. While the fundamental question that remains is not, did the Kirov change in the last decade or so, but were the changes for the best?

Does anybody have any thoughts about this?

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I think there's a corollary question to this - What do you think the Kirov/Mariinsky company ought to be/do?

For me, as much as I love the Balanchine repertory, personally I think it's about as important to the Kirov as it is to the Paris Opera or about as important as doing Shakespeare is to the Comedie Francaise: Of course it's important, but it's not their identity.

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Good question, Marc. The first time the Kirov came here under the New Regime, one of my friends in New York made an observation that I thought quite wise -- and I hadn't yet seen the dancers. "There are several dancers who look like ours, and those are the ones we like." I think that's part of it, but I don't think that everyone thinks that Balanchine will be the Kirov's salvation -- I do know several people who perhaps are hoping for the reverse :)

From a very outsider point of view -- only seeing the company on tour (and reading your interviews with some Kirov dancers in DanceView :) ) I'd agree with your comment that the new regime is a continuation of the old.

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This question has been brought up on this board (and off it) before. There are a myriad of ways to answer it. I'll do my best:

As with any art, everyone has favorite companies, choreographers, dancers. The Mariinsky has a mystique that survived revolution, World War II, the Soviet regieme, post-Communist Russia and - I hope - their current administration. You bet I'm glad Lincoln Kirstein brought Balanchine to America and that I've enjoyed Baryshnikov's evolution into a modern dancer.

From what I've read and seen, the only established policy that's set in motion at the Mariinsky is 'do it and do it NOW but let's keep things as they are.' The result is chaos. This is what sets Gergiev and Vaziev apart from their predecessors. They've been lucky to 'have it all' thanks to generous patrons, but, ultimately, for what? Performers who sound and look tired? That's how it was at the May ROH 'gala' performances. The new theater proposal is a perfect example of a rush job. This past decade of circling the globe has made the theatre visible and accessible to a larger audience but not much thought has gone into creating a foundation for the present...or future. There is the habit of performing the same piece in two productions (i.e., NUTCRACKER, BORIS) for expensive comparison purposes. Can you imagine the Met or ABT doing that? And yet, familiar repertory to either the Mariinsky's ballet or opera audiences is what continues to be paraded out on tour. It's hard describing this duel nature because it doesn't make sense.

This particular article takes advantage of how many feel about the current status of NYCB. The Peter Martins era is two decades too long. Two well-loved ballerinas retired. Their best male and female dancer are with ABT. The Diamond Project created negative publicity. There is a question of whether or not Christopher Wheeldon will stay or freelance. JEWELS is not performed as frequently at NYCB as, say, VIENNA WALTZES or EPISODES. I know NYCB could come up with 5-10 ballerinas for JEWELS but it would mean casting decisions outside the principal ranks. The comparison I would most like to see is to see how Miami City Ballet and the Mariinsky approach this beautiful ballet.

Personally, I think the 'House of Balanchine' title bestowed on the Mariinsky is premature until they attempt the leotard ballets or one of those 'killer ballets' like FAIRY'S KISS.

Both companies are at unknown crossroads. Let's hope for the best.

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Thank you for your comments.

Considering your question, Leigh, I would be tempted to say that I’d prefer the Kirov to be the more “restricted” classical company (repertory-wise, that is), instead of the more all-round, 'we-can-take-anything-company' which the current management is always so eager to highlight as one of its greatest achievements.

I remember seeing tremendous performances of the Paquita-divertissement under the old regime. In recent years I’ve seen so many under-rehearsed or simply badly danced Paquita’s from the Kirov, that I doubt whether they actually still care for this kind of ballet anymore. Yet, isn’t this what should be the true calling-card of the Kirov? Well, at least it used to be. A gala I attended last year was a sad case in point: Rubies, three Fokine pieces, and Paquita. A nice programme on paper, in the something-for-everybody vein, but even if Rubies was acceptable, the Paquita was an expensive joke, with soloists ill-prepared and showing no understanding whatsoever of what they were supposed to do. Funnily enough, all the current ballet masters who were the great interpreters of the Paquita solo’s in the past were in the audience (Chenchikova, Komleva, Evteyeva), yet it were their pupils who were having a rough time.

I really don’t think that the current ballerinas are more interesting than the so-called “mixed bag” from Vinogradov’s time, as is suggested in Ms. Jacobs article. No question of being nostalgic for the old days, but at least under the previous regime there used to be somebody around to pick out the right ones.

Any more thoughts?

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I'll be able to make more intelligent comments in five years, if the Kenedy Center-Kirov partnership holds. I feel I've only seen a splinter of the company -- I will say under Vinogradov, he showed us all of his young ballerinas. Partly because of repertory, I'm sure, we got a very partial view of the company. I feel what I saw of the current generation is a very mixed bag, and they were plunked down in roles to which they were not ideally suited and, worse, not coached to adapt to those roles. It was "This is the Zakharova/Vishneva show. Go out there and do what you do. Never mind "Sleeping Beauty."" I don't think this serves the ballets, the dancers, or the audience. I look forward to seeing more of the company, and as I do, I may change my mind.

New Yorkers? (Not to mention those who see the Kirov much more regularly elsewhere.) You've had a longer view of this company than we have in Washington. What do you think?

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A fortnight ago, had the opportunity, at one of those fearsome galas, of seeing both Lorna Feijoo of the Cuban National Ballet in a pas de deux from La Bayadère, and Zakharova in a pas de deux from Le Corsaire.

In terms of style, poise, musicality and sense of the period, Lorna Feijoo, who, in terms of appearance, is not precisely Aphrodite floating on a cloud of sea-foam, was far superior to Zakharova.

I find that worrying.

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I have only seen the Kirov perform once, and that was this past summer. I saw their new Nutcracker... which in my opinion left a lot to be desired. However, through this there were certain qualities that represent, for me, Russian ballet- drama through movement, Kirov/Russian training, the clone-like corps be ballet. So, for me- the Kirov represents ballet history and tradition. I agree with Marc in that I prefer them with a traditional repetoire- somehow the traditional ballets suit the personalities of the Russians that I know.

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What the Kirov has that no other company can have is the Petipa/Ivanov Heritage and the further continuous tradition forward through the Soviet Era to the present. It has its repertory, its look, its schooling and its memory. That is it's identity. It's first job is to preseve that Heritage and the things that go with it -- or else it will be just like everyone else, there will be no reason in particular to see it, and the world will also have lost something individual and irreplacable. What is just like everyone else is not worth doing.

Same with NYCB -- They're Balanchine's company and have to preserve that first and foremost. Otherwise, who will care to go and what will there be to see if you do?

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What I liked most about what the Kirov did recently in New York was that they went back to the original versions of ballets.

I think that gives both dancers and audience alike a chance to see the heritage. And then the mixed programs allow for the "and we can do this too" feel.

I harp on the education of the audience a lot, but for people to walk in and think that The Diamond Project is what NYCB is a shame. I'd like to see a "Balanchine Project" every 2 years, take the ones out of storage that haven't been done in ages.

Now,it's a bit off topic, but companies like San Francisco or Miami, do they have "heritage" problems?

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This post is pretty rambly, so apologies in advance.

Realizing I am coming to this discussion very late, and wondering if my post wouldn't better belong in the splintered-off heritage topic, my comments, having seen the Kirov very little, but being very aware of their recent reconstructions (time out to breathe in midst of very long sentence), is that they are realizing their classical heritage is very convoluted. Many steps performed in their productions of 19th century ballets were created in the 20th century. Attributions to Petipa and Ivanov are no longer taken seriously. Reconstruction projects have been acclaimed internationally but scorned at home. Two productions of the same ballet are retained in order to appease? Ballerinas, now serving as coaches, are being told that what they grew up knowing as Petipa is really that work of so-and-so, the less than famous (or even infamous) ballet master. Has the recent international success of reconstruction projects cast a pall over non-reconstructed works, at least for purposes of international touring? How much will financial profits from touring play into repertory decisions? Seems to me they've turned a corner with regard to their classical hertiage and now have a number of decisions to make.

(The rest of the world seems content with Soviet-era stagings by famous Russian dancers who defected to the West, despite very real questions of authenticity even on the most general level - another topic altogether.)

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