St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre
Center for the Arts, George Mason University.
April 16, 2005
©2005 by George Jackson
Whites, pale pinks and purplish reds along Braddock Road where the apples,
cherries and redbuds stood in full blossom promising further pleasure.
Fool! Do you still hope for true choreography and consummate dancing from
a barnstorming post-Soviet Russian ballet troupe? Well, perhaps at least
the program's opening piece, Mikhail Fokine's "Chopiniana",
more familiar as "Les Sylphides", would cast its spell once
more. It had looked remarkably fresh just last February during American
Ballet Theatre's visit.This Petersburg staging, though, proved to be full
of annoyances. Before the curtain went up, a Chopin march orchestrated
in a militaristic manner by Alexander Glazunov and Maurice Keller, contradicted
the music of reverie that followed. However, those who know this ballet's
stage history should, by now, have become used to this traditional Soviet
discrepancy. Not, though, to Orest Allegri's set. When the lights came
on, there on stage were the sylphs in apple blossom white, like plantings.
The arbor they formed had, perhaps, too uncurved a line but it framed
the familiar central group of a youth and three sylphs, two resting against
his arms and one at his feet, touching the ground but about to rise. Behind
the dancers though, instead of woodlands, was a neon blue fantasy of plant
life that looked submarine. "Chopiniana" in an aquarium.
What the dancers delivered was basically Fokine's choreography as revised
by Agrippina Vaganova. Yet here and there, between the dances, a gesture
was added and a leg was bent—little things but noticeable because
they were extraneous. The dancers did sustain movement continuity through
the predominantly slow pacing of the accompanying recording, but seemed
hampered by the small size of the stage. As the Youth, Yuri Andreev gave
the impression of anemia. He had high leaps but spaghetti legs. His partner
in the big duo, Anna Borodulina, looked awkward when lifted into the air.
Julia Prosyannikova imbued the Prelude with a haughty tone but hadn't
a particularly feathery bound. The third leading sylph, the one who touches
the ground, showed delicacy and conveyed freshness. I think this was N.
Toreashvily (casting still seems to be a state secret in Russia). Overall,
the effect of "Chopiniana" was one of constraints rather than
St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre dates to 1966. Its first director was Piotr
Gusev, respected for his staging of the 19th Century classics. The choreographer
Leonid Jacobson took over in 1969 and the company became the major vehicle
for his expressive "miniatures"—short ballets staged in
ways more experimental than the Soviet norm. Jacobson's leading dancer,
Askold Makarov, led the company between 1976 and 2000. The current director,
Yuri Petukhov, a Perm graduate, was appointed in 2001. Petukhov also became
the company's house choreographer and the program's two other ballets
"Capriccio Italien", to Tchaikovsky's music of that name, is
a suite of dances. Part chamber-symphonic, part divertissement, this Petukhov
ballet has a rather small cast: a few corps couples, two solo couples
plus a lead pair. They are classically dressed and initially seem to be
at a masked ball. The movement, built of academic combinations with sometimes
a bit of character inflection, is vigorous to the point of being brusque.
Steps, particularly those for the women, tend to be awkwardly linked.
The men's enchainments are more grateful. There is one male trio, the
most interesting number in "Italien", that starts out as a tipsy
dance but, thankfully, Petukhov doesn't insist on insobriety to the end.
With a shift in the music, the men make a fresh start and their simulated
stagger straightens out. This ballet introduced the best thing about the
evening, Nicolai Semenov, a 2001 graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.
He is worth watching, whether soaring, partnering or standing poised.
Petukhov didn't put him through a nuanced lexicon of steps, preferring
the heroic type, but I'd like to see Semenov so challenged. His ballerina,
Maria Yakshanova, tackled Petukhov's dense, terre-a-terre combinations
Yakshanova was luckier in showing her skills in Petukhov's "Scheherezade".
Again paired with Semenov, she had more airy steps and displayed a light,
fast leap and agile point work. Much of the ballet's choreography, though,
is bombastic. Using the same Rimsky-Korsakov tone poem as Fokine did for
his famous version, Petukhov departs from the usual scenario. He tries
to tell two stories simultaneously—that of Scheherezade spinning
her stories for her concubine-killing Sultan and that of the ideal love
in one of those Arabian tales—the romance of Princess Mariam with
her father's handsome young prisoner, Nur. If only Petukhov had shown
more invention, the long double duo for the two pairs could have been
highly effective. Scheherezade, like Fokine's Zobeide, dances with sensual
arms and torso plastique in soft slippers. Mariam's role is conceived
more classically. For neither is there a sufficient vocabulary. Petukhov
has them doing the same steps and taking the same poses over and over
again and the attempted polyphony between the two pairs turns monotonous.
Anastasia Lyubomudrova was an appealing Scheherezade and Alexander Abaturov
a forceful villain as Mariam's official betrothed. The men of the company
showed off in warrior dancing. Again, Semenov added excitement. None of
that, though, helped more than momentarily to make the time pass. Nuanced
choreography was needed.
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker