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3rd International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky

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The programme of the 3rd International Ballet Festival, Febr. 21-March 2, at the Mariinsky is now up on the site of the theatre (I found only the Russian version so far): http://www.mariinsky.ru/ru/afisha/balfest03

There are many changes from the initial schedule and the opening night Febr. 21 still has to be announced. The Bolshoi's guest performance of "La fille mal gardée" has been replaced by a Kirov "Giselle" (Febr. 24), while Nederlands Dans Theater (?!) is taking the evening of Febr. 28 instead of "Manon". The premiere of "Princess Pirlipat" as a prologue (or first act) for "The Nutcracker" is still scheduled for the 27th. The Balanchine evening of the 25th is now a performance of "Jewels" with dancers from POB, NYCB and the Mariinsky.

Here's the complete schedule:

February 21: tba

February 22: CINDERELLA (Ratmansky/Prokofiev)

February 23: LA BAYADÈRE (new production) (Petipa/Minkus)

February 24: GISELLE (Coralli, Perrot, Petipa/Adam)

February 25: JEWELS with stars from the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Mariinsky.

February 26: AN EVENING OF HISTORICAL BALLETS (a divertissement called 'variations on a romantic theme'; 'variations on a Slavonic theme': "Coppelia", "Little Humpbacked Horse"; 'variations on a Spanish theme': Grand pas from "Paquita")

February 27:

PRINCESSA PIRLIPAT (world première) (Simonov/Slonimsky; Libretto and Design by Mikhail Shemyakin)

THE NUTCRACKER (Simonov/Tchaikovsky)

February 28: NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER (works by Kylian)

March 1: SWAN LAKE (Petipa/Tchaikovsky)


The schedule for the Stars of the White Nights Festival is supposed to be online as well. For some perverse reason they posted the one from last year.

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Does anyone find that Mikhail Shemyakin is involved with the production of Princessa Pirlipat worrying? I know he is a very important cartoonist in Russia, but many of the reviews of the Kirov's new Nutcracker by both Russian and western writers felt his influence in the ballet was not good and overshawdowed both the music and the dance.

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That Shemyakin is involved with the new production is in itself less worrying than the fact that he, as the designer and librettist, is taking precedence over the choreographer and the composer. Everybody is supposed to rave about the designs from Shemyakin, while the choreography from Simonov (no matter its artistic values) is passed over as a footnote.

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Shemyakin as librettist seems to be the scary thing. Among other reviews of the latest Nutcracker, the Nina Alovert one in the Summer 2002 Ballet Review was extremely upsetting. Ruins of the castle, a figure in a dark cloak playing the harp, groupings of sexually ambiguous men...I don't know how this figues into the Nutcracker, even going back to the original book. And Alovert said that Shemyakin's designs often left little room to actually dance. Here's one passage of her review:

:Chemiakin's Nutcracker is not only not a ballet, it is diametrically opposed to Tschaikovsky's music. The score is aimed straight at the heart of the viewer. This is why the ball can be enjoyed by both children and grownups. Twentieth-century productions developed the humanistic ideals of the nineteenth century; they dealt with people and fate. The world created by Chemiakin is full of uncaring human beings and rats who eat people. The one good person is turned into a sugar-coated doll. this world has been created out of the pain-filled fantasies of a late twentieth-century artist and has nothing to do with the world of Tschaikovsky or of Hoffmann. It is closer to the frightening world of Franz Kafka. ....... I understand that the hardships endured by Chemiakin under the Soviet regime may have given him the idea that rats are more human than people, and of course he has every right to stage a work with that theme. But the concept has nothing to do with Tschaikovsky, with his lament of the impossibility of happiness."

It all sounds like a bit of a vanity production for Chemiakin, not one that has concerns for the ballet, music or for the company. I know he is a highly regarded artist, but not every artist, however good, is suitable for theatre or ballet. So, does he have an ally at the Mariinsky or influence at the theatre?

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Originally posted by Dale

So, does he have an ally at the Mariinsky or influence at the theatre?

He does: Valery Gergiev. He is the one who brought him in and the idea to make a new Nutcracker is as much Gergiev's.

These people seem to share a rather peculiar view of the "humanistic ideals" as Alovert calls them.

Same thing struck me (although in a different context) when hearing Gergiev's new CD recording of Rimsky's "Scheherazade". Although the maestro insists that he is "painting a beautiful picture", to my ears the beauty is hard to find in his reading. It's dark, rough to the extreme, devoid of all poetry, and it sounds as if this Scheherazade seems to have spend some time in a Chechnian camp rather than wallowing in the perfumes and colours of a fantasized Bagdad.

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Despite his Grammy nominations for the overbearring Russian "contemporary" classical compositions (considering the obnoxious, stupid remarks Gergiev has made about English and American contemporary classical composers), I think that the Maestro records and performs music that will guarantee an audience. Maybe it's Phillips fault but the latest Mariinsky recordings have all been standard repertory - and, as Marc says - played without feeling or emotion. Why a RING Cycle without the right voices, enough rehearsal, or a production with thematic purpose? Because the Wagnerites will come.

I hope the Met realizes Gergiev's inflated reputation before considering him as a potential successor to James Levine. A decade ago it would have been exciting but now it just wouldn't work. It's going to take more than Russian opera or "big" works in the repertory to build on.

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Sorry to disagree but I find the Shemiakin 'Nutcracker' to be a masterpiece...not of ballet but of theatrical art/pantomime. It is visually stunning and greatly enhances the music. Now, suddenly, every note comes to life.

I am delighted to read that the same team is working on the 'Princess Pirlipat' premiere. This makes perfect sense, considering the Hoffmanesque theme & link between the two stories.

That is not to say that the Vasily Vainonen version of 'Nutcracker' should be permanently replaced by the Shemiakin/Simonov pantomime. One is a ballet; the other is a pantomime. Both spectacular theater, IMO.

I bet that, if all of you would sit in the theater -- not living room, looking at a videotape or reading reviews -- and experience the Shemiakin 'Nutcracker' LIVE, you too will shout 'bravo!' as do standing-room-audiences in Peter. I will place bets with all of you (100 rubles with Marc...about three dollars!!!!) ...go with open minds & see it as a pure-pantomime & visual extravaganza...not as a ballet. But it is truly worthy of the glorious setting of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater, amen!

p.s. - My review of the Shemiakin 'Nut' is in my 2002 White Nights Festival thread, so I will not delineate here the many reasons why I adore this production.

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Jeannie, unfortunately I can't afford to take you up on your offer. The airfare from New York to St. Petersburg is too much for me. So, for now, reviews, including yours (which I very much enjoyed reading and hope you put more reviews of the happenings in Russia up on the board), are all I have now. I would gladly see the production with an open mind should the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet bring it to the Northeast United States -- just has I did not let negative reviews stop me from attending several nights of the reconstructed Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere and loving every minute of it.

However, I can't help thinking, and maybe this is my Balanchine-obsessed bias speaking, that a strict pantomime does not really do justice to a ballet company. Ballet theater, in the Diagiliv sense, should combines music, dance, mime, costumes, libretto, and scenery. One aspect should not dominate.

As Alovert had in her review, Chemiakin has a production there, but maybe the ballet isn't the best place for it.

Regarding Gergiev, I haven't listen to his latest recordings, but I did enjoy his full Sleeping Beauty recording made, I think, in 1993 or 1994.

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Dale - You may not have to wait too long, if the Kennedy Center (DC) goes through with its long-ago promise to stage a Kirov Opera & Ballet 'Tribute to Tchaikovsky' in December 2003, including the new 'Nut' plus 'Onegin' 'Queen of Spades' and perhaps 'Swan Lake'??

I'm not sure of the status of the 'Vilar Deal' and if it will all come to pass, though....the famous 'ten straight years of Kirov Ballet at the Kennedy Center' has turned into a full season in Feb 2002 and one or two guest artists performing at a scaled-down potpourri-type event in march 2003. So, I'm not betting my 100 rubles on when the next big full-scaled Kirov season at the Kennedy Center will take place. :) But the last set of 'plans' are to do the Tchaikovsky Festival in December of this year...

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I wouldn't worry too much about this year -- I don't think the company was pulling back, but since the Opera House is out of commission for at least another 11 months, it was difficult to schedule them. I think Kaiser is committed to this, and he seems to be very good at putting his plans into action.

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I don't know what everybody seems to have with, what the Mariinsky calls, "revolutionizing Tchaikovsky". If they mean making the tempi undanceable, like they did during the performances of Shemyakin's "Nutcracker" I had to sit through, then I can easily live without it. For one thing, I never thought that Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" needed to suffer this treatment, as the great conductors (Mravinsky, Svetlanov, Dorati among others) have always made it sound like the true masterpiece it is.

Thank you, Jeannie :), but I don't share your enthusiasm for Shemiakin's opus minor. I saw it first on a video and had hoped it would work better in the theatre, but unfortunately it turned out to be even worse (some boo-ing at the end didn't help either). And I really don't see the link with the Imperial Ballet, where it was as far as I know more about harmony and balance instead of utter darkness and chaos. Efforts like this fall in the same category as Fabre's "Swan Lake", where ballet is reduced to a parade of highly personal quirks. It tells us nothing new, except maybe that we have another nutcase on the loose.

And finally I will never forgive anyone, choreographer, designer or whoever, who has the Kirov corps de ballet girls crawl like animal on flat feet and hands or make them roll on their backs, legs up in the air, after which a Nosferatu-like Drosselmayer sends them all home like unruly children. This particular passage may stand as typical for the whole concept behind this "Nutcracker": the mockery and complete destruction of classicism - nothing more, nothing less.

Dale, those Gergiev early recordings were quite in a different league than the recent ones.

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To each his own, Katherine & Marc. The nice thing is that all of our opinions are valid, aren't they? :)

I was there this past White Nights when 'Nutcharker' was wildly cheered & bravoed. And there was some gorgeous dancing by Natalia Sologub and Andrei Merkuriev, too, in Act II. But the dancing was minimal - it was the sheer magnificence & 'luxe' quality of the BRIGHT & COLORFUL (not dark, Marc) production that makes it truly worthy of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater!

I'm going to stop arguing until I see both of you in the theater, sitting next to me, your mouths open in wonder at the beauty before you & in your ears. :)

Katherine - I am the BIGGEST fan of Lacotte's 'Paquita' & saw several of the first performances in January 2001 (loving the adorable, petite Clairemarie Osta the best...a delicious bon-bon of a Romantic ballerina!), so perhaps we offer different, yet valid, perspectives? ;)

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Jeannie, I share some of your enthusiasm for Chemiakin's Nutcracker. I like Simonov's choreography for the grand pas de deux, which at the performance I saw at last year's Mariinsky Festival was beautifully danced by Natalia Sologub and Andrian Fadeyev.

I just noticed that the revised programme for the Mariinsky Festival next month is up in the English section of the Mariinsky website.


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Opening night (Febr. 21) of the Festival is now finally announced: "La Bayadère" replacing "Ondine"


Of course, Jeannie, I agree, one always has to see it first with one's own eyes before judging. Yet, in this case, my mouth only opened in disbelief that such a production ever made it to the Mariinsky stage. There used to be a Maly theatre for the more experimental works. But maybe it's because I still associate ballet with choreography, while there isn't any worth mentioning in this "Nutcracker".

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Oh, Marc, have you forgotten your Imperial Russian Ballet history? The Imperial ballet's productions -- particularly those of a fellow named Marius Petipa -- were celebrated for the promenades and displays of physical and sartorial beauty. Vigorous dancing was not necessarily the primary element of the evening. Remember:

* the parade of fairy tale characters in the 1898 'Sleeping Beauty'

* the parade of Egyptians in Act II of Lacotte's reconstruction of 'Fille du Pharaon'

* the parade at the start of Act II, sc ii of the 1900 'Bayaderka'

* the parade of national dancers at the start of Act IV of 'Little Humpbacked Horse'

I could go on and on and on.

Who cared whether or not Marie Petipa could do triple pirouette? Who cared about the number of entrechats that Pavel Gerdt could perform? They were models of physical elegance, reflecting the restrained manners of the Romanov Court, the patrons of it all.

Promenading & showing-off magnificent costumes and glamour *was* a huge part of the ballet....and I say 'bravo!' to the Gergiev/Vaziyev team for fostering the return of pure-magnificence to the glorious stage of the Imperial Mariinsky Theater! :)

Belikolepna! Izumitelna! Chudesna! Ochien prekrasna!

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I understand your enthusiasm for this production, Jeannie. However, no matter your argumentation, I still don’t see the vaguest resemblance. Besides, any good historian should know that revealing only part of the past, is a half done job ;). Unless I’m mistaken of course, Petipa’s ballets included besides the pageantry a good bit of classical dancing as well, and there were also the elements of harmony, balance, a sense of proportion, beauty, a moral significance, etc. none of which I could find in Shemiakin’s "Nutcracker".

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Thanks Marc. I'm still looking forward to attending all or most of this festival & filing my reports for all to read.

I find it a bit odd that there will be two Bayaderes. I bet that may change, in time, as the idea in these festivals is to vary the repertoire so that we see a different offering every night.

As for Nederlands Dance Theater on one night, my first thought was "Thank Goodness this is the night of the figure skating Grand Prix Finals across town!" [No offense to NDT, a top modern dance -- not ballet -- company.]

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The Mariinsky Theatre announced the names of the foreign guest stars, scheduled to appear during the Festival: Nikolai Tsiskaridze (Bolshoi), Vladimir Malakhov (ABT, Berlin), Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg (Royal Ballet), Agnès Letestu, José Martinez, Manuel Legris, Jean-Guillaume Bart (POB), Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Damian Woetzel (NYCB).

The final Gala performance will be dedicated to Rudolf Nureyev.


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