writers on dancing


Does Different Casting Make a Difference?

Kirov Ballet of the Maryinsky Theatre
Opera House
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 7:30 PM

by George Jackson
copyright © 2005 by George Jackson

Twice in a row now the Kirov Ballet has given us a grotesque take on a traditional topic. "The Nutcracker " last year and the just completed week of "Cinderella" share a point of view, although they differ as repositories of choreography. "The Nutcracker", dominated by painter Mihail Chemiakin's concept and designs, was under-choreographed by Kirill Simonov. The problems of "Cinderella" were essentially those of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who hyperanimated a truncated edition (by Valery Gergiev?) of Sergei Prokofiev's 1945 music. Mr. Ratmansky's exaggerations affected nearly everything, yet he was negligent about the basics of storytelling and structuring dances. In such circumstances, could alternate casting make a difference? It did, to an extent.

The hero of the first Washington cast on Tuesday, January 11 wasn't Cinderella but her Prince. He was almost human, although rather shy for a ruler and surprisingly virginal for so prominent a young male. Cinderella was nearly as much a caricature as every other character except the Prince. She was the born victim, drab to the point of deserving the abuse she got not just from her step family but her real father, a drunkard who disguised the pressure he put on her with ineffective kindness. Saturday night, Cinderella emerged as the title figure. She had brains, and didn't just respond. One could sense her train of thought as she coped with what fate dealt her. That she would act at the right instant became a conviction that grew in strength. And when she did drop the object of the Prince's search, the matching glass slipper, it was no accident that it practically hit him on the head. This was a deliberate young woman.

Cinderella's intelligence also operated in the way she tackled her solos and the supported dancing. Mr. Ratmansky's enchainments typically have gaps. On opening night, the effect was that of vacuums, something that art as well as nature abhors. Saturday night, one could see the questions Cinderella asked herself. Why are there no steps here? Can I bridge them dynamically without adding movement the choreographer didn't make? She almost succeeded, at least she gave the impression that there were good reasons for the gaps in the dancing, that they provided textural variety like the holes in Swiss cheese.

The dancer responsible for this was Diana Vishneva. She has become a ballerina. When the Kirov Ballet first featured her four, five years ago she was, technically, a Sylvie Guillem clone, flaunting incredibly high extensions whether they belonged or not. The ability to style a role or create a character, which Ms. Guillem had, wasn't very apparent. Two years later, Ms. Vishneva had learned to charm and pay attention to the fine points of phrasing movement. Now, I'd like to see her in a dramatically rich part. This Cinderella isn't that, yet Ms. Vishneva made one care about the character, which Natalia Sologub hadn't on opening night. Ms. Sologub didn't transgress the choreographer's apparent injunction that even the heroine ought to be a caricature.

Ms. Vishneva's Prince was Igor Kolb. Sumptuously stretched, operating with a strength gloved in velvet, he was visually and inwardly an anti-Prince. His craggy features, spiky hairdo and pencil-thin mustache signaled a Mafia gigolo. On opening night, Andrei Merkuriev had looked young and vulnerable, and had danced ably. Which Prince is closer to the choreographer's intent? Perhaps that of Mr. Merkuriev because his solo passages are the only ones not distorted by eccentric balances, exaggerations of scale, fractured lines and those vacuums in imagination.

As the ballet's principal gargoyle, the Stepmother, Alexandra Iosifidi was almost as frantic as Irma Nioradze on opening night, but a bit more a personality than an automaton. Probably Ms. Nioradze's variant was closer to the choreographer's conception. On the whole, Saturday night's performance, number six in this run of seven, was clearer in asides and details than opening night's.

Events in Russia, past and present, have often been grotesque. Life there isn't easy. Yet to this infrequent visitor, what has remained remarkably human are the people. Mr. Chemiakin and Mr. Ratmansky have come to a different conclusion. If you believe their ballets "The Nutcracker" and "Cinderella", it is precisely the people who are what is wrong. Both these Russian gentlemen have spent time outside Russia, and so can see their fellow citizens comparatively as well as intimately. I can't properly argue with their view of reality. As theater, though, so much cartooning becomes pointless. Almost everyone on stage is bizarre. One needs to see more balance, more beauty simply as contrast. In Mr. Ratmansky's case, it isn't ideas he lacks. There are a dizzying number in "Cinderella" but they appear unshaped. Mr. Ratmansky doesn't seem to value the know how of building a scene, fashioning a whole dance, or of replying to the music in a way other than mechanical.

Volume 3, No. 3
January 17, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by George Jackson


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last updated on January10, 2005