The Kirov’s Modern Kick

The Kirov is a great ballet company because it has so many terrific dancers, but it doesn’t always know what to do with them. The dancers—here for a three-week season, just ended, at the City Center—were under a handicap: The stage is so much smaller than their own, in St. Petersburg, that the company’s classical works in particular looked cramped and unhappy. But this isn’t why these standard pieces—the heart of the old Kirov/Maryinsky repertory—were the least convincing of everything we were shown.

Forget the cramped stage, the greeting-card décor, the bizarre programming: The problem is that the old performance traditions of showoffy virtuosity looked barren and faintly ridiculous—though not to the heavily Russian audience, who bravoed, ovated, yipped, barked and screamed for every fouetté (the gals) and barrel turn (the guys). The whole thing was like an international ballet competition, or even worse, one of those gaudy gala nights at which every trick in the classical book is trotted out. That’s apparently what “ballet” means to this audience of fans with a Russian accent.

The second week of the season began with a hideous account of the “Jardin Animé” scene from Le Corsaire, a scene which only makes sense as a harmonious dream of classicism within the plot-crazy full-length ballet. In this version put together by God knows who (Petipa is credited, for what it’s worth), the scene is all on its own. And then, outlandishly, the ballet’s famous pas de deux (or, in this case, trois) is plumped down in the middle of it! Why not, it occurred to me, take things a step further and insert, say, The Dying Swan into the middle of the pas de deux in the middle of the “Jardin Animé”?

The Diana and Acteon pas de deux, which came next, had the virtue of showing us what a brilliant dancer Victoria Tereshkina can be—no wonder the company is pushing her. Given the clarity, the attack, the musicality she displayed, you could sense what an exceptional Balanchine dancer she would be. Here she was having fun pulling off the old tricks—and with a young partner, Mikhail Lobukhin, who seemed to come from a different world from the rest of the company’s men (their virtuosity is more or less tasteful). In his Tarzan off-the-shoulder outfit and his go-for-the-kill absence of restraint, he reminded me of those Bolshoi dancers from the ’50s when Soviet men were Soviet men hurling themselves across the stage like clowns being shot out of cannons, only there weren’t any cannons. Those were the days.

Don’t think we were spared the Don Quixote pas de deux, which, I was happy to learn from the program notes, is “based on the novel by Miguel de Cervantes.”

What all three of these “greatest hits” achieved was to display the spectacular dancing of the company’s ballerinas. Diana Vishneva, as we know from her ABT appearances, is a supremely talented dancer, and although she showed moments of atypical unsteadiness in these Petipa treasures, she remained nonpareil. Except for Uliana Lopatkina, the other nonpareil—more regal, more studied, but equally strong and even more commanding. Individual performances were generally on a very high level, but the Petipa repertory looked a little unloved—as if the dancers would rather have been doing something more up-to-date.

We can blame the audience for abandoning itself to the relentless hijinks, but we can’t blame it for the languors of the all-Fokine program. With the exception of his masterpiece, Chopiniana (Les Sylphides to you), Fokine has gone the way of all flesh.

As for Harold Lander’s Etudes, how can one describe its endlessness and emptiness? It’s a classroom ballet that was once very popular, and they tell us that the Danes still make something of it (it was created for their Royal Ballet in 1948), but I’m from the show-me state. Alas, we’ll have another chance to be shown when ABT features it later this spring. Beware the vulgarized orchestrations of Czerny’s delicate music.

 

IN THE FINAL week of the season, the company got down. First, an all-Forsythe program, which for Forsythe-lovers must have been a thrill. As The New York Times put it, “Mr. Forsythe, the American-born choreographer, is regarded by many in the dance world as the most important influence on ballet since Balanchine. (Others consider him as—in dance terms—the devil.)” I’m one of those others. Having seen this program in Russia, I was prepared for the enthusiasm the Kirovians brought to it. At last, you could sense them thinking, we’re doing Modern! And they work very hard. Indeed, who could be more impressive in Steptext, that tedious exercise in external effects (a Bach chaconne abruptly stopping and restarting; the lights suddenly off and then on again), than Vishneva, her amazingly sinuous body in blazing red wrapped around whichever of her three partners happened to be in the vicinity?

We’re all free to choose our most-loathed Forsythe piece, and mine is The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, a pastiche and parody of classical ballet. Forsythe has almost no classical vocabulary, so his parody is generalized and dull: All it proves is that he’s inferior to everything he’s making fun of.

The Kirov’s Modern Kick