PARIS, 18 JANUARY 2006— From his childhood
days George Balanchine, who studied at the Petrograd Ballet School, was
brought up in the tradition of academic ballet. He joined the Kirov
Ballet* in 1921 and took part in the productions there, falling in love
with dance, he said, because of Petipa and Ivanov's "Sleeping
Beauty" and Nutcracker, two monuments of the Russian
Imperial style. From the moment he began choreographing in 1920, his own
works were firmly rooted in 19th century Russian classicism.
It is hardly surprising then, that most of his ballets, though
plot-less and stripped of all artifice and theatricality, are ideally
suited to the Kirov.
Ballet Imperial with its sweeping elegance is a tribute to the
spirit and brilliance of Tzarist Russia. It's a romantic one-act work set
to Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto, and could have been made for them.
In a Balanchinian favourite theme, the central figure, danced by Igor
Kolb, is pursuing an inaccessible woman who vanishes into the corps de
ballet, a swaying cloud of pink in knee-length chiffon dresses. A
second ballerina, in a mist of blue, arrives and gives a wonderful display
of bravura dancing. It was very beautiful.
The evening began with Les Quatre Tempéraments, Balanchine's
1946 masterpiece set to a score commissioned from Paul Hindemith. The
ballet consists of a series of powerful, intricate variations based on the
four moods; melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric, and is a
startling visualisation of Hindemith's music.
With the high-flying lifts, speedy, precise steps, and the jazzy,
much-loved "Phlegmatic" variation, where the man is surrounded by four
hip-swaying attractive women, the company, in dateless black and white
practice clothes, interpreted the work with freshness and zest.
The Prodigal Son, music Prokofiev, the next work on offer,
stunned because of the outstanding interpretation of Andrei Merkuriev in
the dramatic central role. From the moment the ballet begins and we see
him glancing away impatiently as his father is trying to give him his
blessing, Merkuriev threw himself heart and soul into the character of the
wayward young man. But unfortunately, the rest of the cast ran into
problems, possibly because they did not understand the spirit of the work.
The bald-headed revellers were unable to create an atmosphere; they
blandly told the story. Whether one likes this work or not, it is a piece
of dance history and must be treated as such. Moreover, although the young
girl who played the Siren shows great promise, she was neither venomous
nor a femme fatale. She didn't smoulder. Even with Merkuriev, who was
mesmerised by her, there was no sense of danger.
Neither did the great Vladimir Ponomarev convince as the father.
Looking some 102 years old, he might have passed for Moses with his long
white hair streaming down and eyes blindly seeking the horizon. He
was far too rigid and theatrical.
La Valse, to a score by Ravel, is a ballet set in the 1950's,
with the ladies in long wispy gowns and white elbow-length gloves. Couples
are waltzing in a ballroom, the atmosphere heady with perfume and danger,
when a stranger in black arrives. He offers a black necklace to a
beautiful young girl, the poetic and other- worldly Uliana Lopatkina, and
proceeds to lure the doomed heroine to her death after she heedlessly
plunges her hands into a pair of black gloves. It is as much a piece
of history as the Prodigal Son, not only because of the setting,
but because it was staged for Tanaquil Le Clercq, his muse whom he married
the following year, and who was struck down by polio shortly after.
Mention must also be made of the Kirov orchestra, brilliantly conducted
by the talented young Tugan Sokhiev.
* Although the company reverted to its rightful name,
the Mariinski Theatre of Saint-Petersburg in 1991, on tour, it is
generally known as the Kirov.
Patricia Boccadoro is the Dance Editor of