She was, however, the more interesting in Schéhérazade—more of a Shah’s proud favorite than a kitsch dancer. But can one still legitimately apply the word “interesting” to Schéhérazade? It was the calling card of the old Ballets Russes, seen throughout the 1930’s and 40’s in every auditorium across America, and the very definition of “Russian Ballet.” By now, though, we’ve been inoculated by countless Maria Montez and Yvonne de Carlo movies, and bare midriffs have gone the way of Cole Porter’s glimpse of stocking. Only the great Rimsky-Korsakov score, thrillingly played by the Maryinsky Orchestra under Mikhail Sinkevich, provided excitement.
Schéhérazade needs a Nijinsky as the Golden Slave, and it didn’t get one. Danila Korsuntsev, Vishneva’s boy toy, was a dreary washout—her husband, the Shah, was a lot sexier. Lopatkina’s Ivan Kozlov was a beefy, likable guy, goofy about Madame, and she about him—you could tell by the way they pawed each other and kept grinning. But pantherine grace? Sinuous sexuality? Frenzy? Terrifying death? (Nijinsky, apparently, used to spin on his neck in his death throes!)
The all-Fokine evening was ill-advised, except for Chopiniana. The Kirov reminded us of how inventive and fluent this often moribund classic really is: how charming the groupings, how ingeniously constructed. On the other hand, Le Spectre de la Rose may be beyond redemption. Again, where is its Nijinsky? Sarafanov, so slender, so slight, so boyish, blurs the line between the androgynous and the epicene. He’s being touted as a technical prodigy, but in Spectre, he’s a rose without a thorn.
As for the all-Petipa evening, why follow one extended divertissement (from Raymonda) with another (from Paquita)? One is Hungarian-inflected, the other Spanish-inflected, but doesn’t that amou
nt to the famous “distinction without a difference”? Best in show was Vishneva’s Paquita—no surprise.
We expect superb training and execution from the big Russian companies, and on the whole we get them. We don’t expect taste. And we certainly don’t expect common sense. Why no bios of any of the dancers in the playbill? (This must be a first.) Why the longest intermissions in living memory? Why tell us in a program note that although in 1900 the corps of “Shades” consisted of 48 dancers, because of touring restrictions they’ve been reduced to 32—and then produce 24? The Iron Curtain may be a thing of the past, but Mother Russia is as mysterious as ever.