writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

A Third of a Jewel

The Kirov Ballet

Zellerbach Hall
Berkeley, Caliifornia
October 11, 2003

by Rita Felciano
Copyright ©2003 by

The Kirov continued its Berkeley run, prsented by Cal Performances, with four showings of George Balanchine's Jewels. If it hadn’t been for ‘Diamonds’, as pure and as exhilarating a performance as I would ever hope to see, Jewels would have been a major disappointment. Even though a colleague pointed out that you don’t go to see Balanchine for the sets, as long as you choose to perform with them, they should be more than these drab, shaped out of mud tie-backs, a spattered drop cloth and poorly lit plastic baubles.

And how could these ballerinas, whose arms were so alive in Les Sylphides, look so wan in Emeralds? The orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Agrest, played Fauré’s delicate score with understanding, mediating its translucent romanticism with great taste. But the dancers, somehow, did not seem to hear it. While the steps were there, dutifully executed, they didn’t mean anything. When early on the two women’s circles merge only to open into a larger one, you want them to be like liquids whose combined chemistry metamorphoses into something new. When the diagonal opens into a passageway for the first couple to pass through, you want those lines to be alive, not just positions. You need something akin to tensile strength in the wavy line that the first ballerina (Daria Sukhorukova) finally breaks through with her partner (Victor Baranov). Maybe the Kirov dancers were afraid of overly dramatizing 'Emerald’s” mysteriously aqueous mood so that they held back to the point of being vapid. It was disappointing.

Sukhorukova seemed the most at home in this quasi penumbral environment; strong with fine feet, she imbued those intricate port de bras with a lovely consistently flowing line. Her dancing was also the most musical, stately but filled with a surging urge that repeatedly drew her to Baranov. Daria Pavlenko and Andrey Yakovlev were badly matched. He is a rather stolid dancer and simply couldn’t give her the needed support in the walking duet, leading to several technical insecurities. It’s probably also the reason why those watch hand extensions ticked through their trajectory so unevenly. Both of them seemed uncomfortable with the arm gesture in which the ballerina lightly places her arm on the top of her partner’s. In the retreating walk they almost looked as if they had lost their way.

The Kirov performs 'Emeralds' without the septet Balanchine added as an ending. For a long time, I wasn’t sure whether this didn’t look tacked on. Now I am absolutely convinced. That ingenious ending lifts a perfunctory finale into poetry. And with its own walking patterns it gives context to the walking duet. Here it was badly missed.

Yana Selina, a fine, musical dancer, and Ekaterina Osmolkina, were partnered in the trio by Roben Bobvnikov. He has clean lines and appropriate, not overly big jumps; they were a pleasure to watch.

With the fast-faced, exuberantly performed ‘Rubies,’ the company somewhat redeemed itself. These dancers knew about Broadway, Jazz and Balanchine’s homage to them. They high stepped, thrusted their hips and danced their syncopated hearts out. They also listened to the music—fabulously performed--and understood what was wanted.

Pavlenko, as the secondary ballerina, was magnificently self-possessed, a diva-like universe to herself. Her arms triumphantly raised, head slightly cocked, she could have stepped out of a bill board. Barely acknowledging the presence of the homage-paying youths, she condescended to have her limbs manipulated by them, a favor bestowed. Yet she left no doubt that she could wipe out everyone of them out with the swipe of a leg.

Difficult to accept was Irma Nioradze’s first ballerina. All flashing eyes and teeth-baring grin, she performed those hair-trigger combinations with a Hollywood star’s “look at ME, look at what I can do.” And she did. She tore through the role with insouciance, a sense of willful playfulness that didn’t mask the sheer technical brilliance the part demands. If only she had just been willing to trust those kicks and thrusts and shifts to communicate across the footlight. She is very good; she didn’t have to advertise herself quite so stridently.

Anton Korsakov performed his male solo role with great panache; however, a little bit more devil-may-care would have been welcome when leading his buddies in the chasing sequence.

In the past ‘Diamonds’ has always seemed rational, crystalline but also somewhat hard-edged just like the jewel it represents. It appeared to have something of an aura of an ice palace about it, particularly in the corps dancing. Maybe this could be attributed to the fact that ‘Diamonds” was an homage to Petipa, and not the real thing, classicism one step removed. But not in the Kirov’s version with Sofia Gumerova and Igor Zelensky in the lead.

From the moment its twelve lined up dancers broke into two smaller and one larger, and then immediatedly into four equally sized division with such effortless fluidity and grace, they filled Tchaikovsky score with pulsating life. Everything was orderly and geometric; yet it felt as spontaneous and preordained. The principal couple introduced themselves to us and to each other the same way. Traditionally a diagonal trajectory is the most tension filled and dramatic. Here the leads approached each other from different corners, barely met in the middle and continued, only to repeat the same voyage from the other directions. The crossing lines were about as abstract as they could be yet they looked absolutely natural. And then, of course, you learned that these mid-stage encounters logically lead to the pas de deux which also started with the dancers approaching each other from different directions. Only now you knew that they had met before.

Somewhat surprisingly Gumerova danced her role very much like the Swan Queen’s. But why not? The Tchaikovsky score bears much resemblance to the one he was about to write for “Swan Lake.” I can’t imagine Balanchine would disapprove.

Internally focused, yet yielding to Zelensky, almost resting her head on his shoulder, Gumerova’s arabesques had stillness to them; her lines suspended time and she floated in her lifts as if gravity didn’t exist. Zelensky was all ardent support, passing her from one hand into other, holding her in penche or kneeling to her arabesques as if he was fated to do so. When in the end the billowing corps opened liked the clouds on a baroque ceiling to afford you a glimpse of heaven, you believed them that this was where these two dancers were going.

Photos by Valentine Varanovsky:
First: Uliana Lopoatkina and Igor Zelensky in Diamonds.
Second: Maya Dumchenko and Anton Korsakov in Rubies

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 3
October 13, 2003
Copyright ©2003 by Rita Felciano




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last updated on October 7, 2003