mon 27/05/2019

Scotch Symphony/ In the Night/ Ballet Imperial, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

Scotch Symphony/ In the Night/ Ballet Imperial, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House

Scotch Symphony/ In the Night/ Ballet Imperial, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House

Maybe it takes US choreography to uncover the greatest Russian ballerinas

Maybe it takes American choreography to reveal what’s most Russian in St Petersburg’s monastically trained ballerinas. Russian blood ran in the veins of the US master choreographer George Balanchine, two of whose works were on the bill, and who influenced his acolyte, the brilliant Jerome Robbins. Ever since the Mariinsky reclaimed the clipped spun-sugar aesthetic of the émigré ancestor Balanchine two decades ago, it has been their Balanchine that draws beady and expectant eyes. But last night the Robbins was the outstanding experience in an altogether distinguished evening of choreography.

In the Night, the centrepiece, is a romantic reverie under a star-strewn sky for three couples. It's what US balletomanes call a “piano ballet”, with long dresses, Chopin nocturnes, and love on the agenda - it can be as lavish or as stilted as its interpreters make it. For sure, there’s no other art form that so eagerly glorifies flaky emotional behaviour by women, but what succulent movement it inspires in the hands of a genius of theatre like Robbins when a woman can be played back and forth through dance like a yoyo.

No three ballerinas could have been more deeply involved with potential emotional nuances and more finely poised in their dancing than Evgenia Obraztsova, Alina Somova and Uliana Lopatkina last night, their squires almost unimportant except as porters and devoted worshippers. Yet with quiet courtesy the well-bred Mariinsky men allowed the women to make of their relationships a trio of profoundly different stories, insights into the heart, each pair oblivious of the others except when at the end they almost bump into each other, come to their senses with a polite how-d’you-do, before whirling off again back to their fantasies.

Listen to Artur Rubinstein play the first Nocturne used in the ballet, Op 27 No 1

It’s Robbins’s genius that he fashioned steps for the three that are both generically similar and yet crucially different in signposting feeling. You might instinctively check your own life in the mirrors the three hold up to love: the first pair, meltingly intimate; the second, a bargain being fashioned between (as I read last night’s interpretation) a demurring younger woman and an older man; the third, a fractious, nervy belle in black hassling her partner, making for some acrobatic and amusing moments, moving to her heartrending apology with fluttering hands and a beseeching prostration, and his sweetly ironic reply, hoisting her high like a goddess to reassure her, and then unceremoniously dropping her into his arms for a cuddle.

The petite, exquisite Obraztsova and the silkily tall Lopatkina have long ago proved their piercing sensitivity, so the greatest surprise to me was Somova, the young dancer whose extravagant tastelessness in some of her physical moves elsewhere has no outlet in this piece. Instead she showed a touching gravity and sense of potential tragedy with the dignified Evgeny Ivanchenko which turned the short but intense middle episode into the heart of the 25-minute ballet.

The performance's directness was underpinned by the turbulently emotive piano-playing by Ludmila Sveshnikova, a small, surprisingly elderly woman, evidently vastly more to the Mariinsky than a mere rehearsal pianist.

Viktoria Terëshkina is a magisterial not-for-export Mariinsky ballerina of the finest distillation

 She turned up again having a doughty and passionate stab at the torrential piano part of Tchaikovsky’s Second Concerto for Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial, one of his glistening tributes to his memories of Kirov ballet style. Created in 1941 for a wartime tour of South America, this work makes much of its large corps de ballet, offsetting their pretty and traditional filigree with one of his most provocative central couples, jousting with their musicality in what's more a danced dialogue than a duet. Despite the touches of romanticism it demands a couple of supreme wits, and the boyish and unaffected Vladimir Shklyarov is that, a pleasure to watch.

tereshkina_mugshotBut on another level is the exceptional Viktoria Tereshkina (pictured left, courtesy Mariinsky Theatre), a magisterial not-for-export Mariinsky ballerina of the finest distillation who, like Lopatkina, one can’t imagine in any other ballet company than St Petersburg’s. Dark, fascinating, forbidding, she danced her solos with mesmerising intensity and momentousness, almost more with the piano than with her partner, as if requiring him to be interesting enough to claim her attention (which is the kind of artistic imperiousness I do love to see in a ballerina). There are many aspiring princesses in ballet, very few true queens of the blood about, and Terëshkina is one of them.

Scotch_symphony_men1One needs someone like her or Alina Cojocaru, rather than the commonplace Anastasia Matvienko, leading Balanchine’s peachy Scotch Symphony. This is a madly kilted Scottish romp (pictured right, by Natasha Razina) set to Mendelssohn’s eponymous symphony, inspired by Balanchine’s 1952 trip to the Edinburgh Festival. It’s as much Brigadoon as La Sylphide, and deserves quicker musical relish and niftier feet than the ensemble showed - though the ponderous conducting of Boris Gruzin must take some blame.

Fortunately the leading lad was a courteously handsome young dancer and thoughtful artist, Alexander Sergeyev. In every gesture you saw him striving to earn the right to represent his great tradition honorably, both aesthetically and expressively. He does, with laurels.

  • The Mariinsky Ballet season at the Royal Opera House continues with this programme tonight; Swan Lake tomorrow, Monday; Ratmansky's Anna Karenina Tues, Wed; and La Bayadère Thurs-Sat 13 Aug

Comments

A glorious evening; my only quibble was that "Imperial" was so "underdressed". Bring back those tutus!

I LOVE  mariinsky ballerinas, especially Lopatkina. But watching the Diamonds pdd w/Farrell &Martins (DVD) is a vry diff experience from watching Uliana & Zelensky perform it (on YouTube) Farrell & Martins look modern,not classical perfection. 2 entirely différent interprétations

If the Scotch Symphony was commonplace as led by Anastasia Matvienko on Thursday, it was the triumph of Friday's triple bill danced by Maria Shirinkina. Since they gave this second soloist David Hallberg as a partner, the Mariinsky clearly know they have something special on their hands with this artist. Tasked with bringing an ambiguous combination of village girl and sylph to life, Shirinkina flourished and floated dreamily in the wake of the music while nailing her part’s idiosyncratic confection of sincerity, peril and fun.

I also love Maryinsky ballerinas. However, Tereshkina in 'Ballet Imperial' looked scary in every respect from Warrior Princess demeanour to scarlet lips, slanted, piercing eyes and stabbing pointes. The Maryinsky should rename 'Ballet Imperial' to 'Piano Concerto Number 2' as New York City Ballet did when Balanchine decided the women should wear nighties instead of tutus.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters