Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Grigorovich Ballet, "Legends of Russian Ballet"

On March 7th, we braved the windy weather and went to the Riverside Theatre to see the Grigorovich Ballet company’s program, “Legends of Russian Ballet.”

We were reminded why the Riverside is one of our least favorite of the Milwaukee venues: the calendar listings adamantly refused to give a curtain time, saying only that “doors open at 7PM”, for what turned out to be an (approximately) 8PM curtain. Since our tickets were at “will call” we got there at 6:30 and ended up having to kill the best part of an hour and a half standing around before the show started. (Doors did not open until after seven as it was, and then we were not allowed into the house until closer to 7:30 since the dancers were still using the stage.) I found it incomprehensible that the management was not allowing the ticketholders into the outer lobby bar area earlier, which one would have thought might have allowed the sale of a few additional drinks, especially since the bartender could be seen to be ready and waiting. (The Riverside is under common management with the Pabst Theatre and Turner Hall, but both those operations seem better run--.) Sight lines from our seats in the front of the second floor were excellent, but the seats in the old vaudeville house are narrow, hard, and cramped for legroom, so it was fortunate the performance was fascinating enough to take my mind off such things.

Yury Nikolayevich Grigorovich is a Russian dancer and choreographer who had family connected with the Imperial Russian Ballet. He graduated from the Leningrad Choreographic School in 1946 and danced as a soloist of the Kirov Ballet until 1962. His staging of Sergey Prokofiev's The Stone Flower (1957) and of The Legend of Love (1961) brought him acclaim as a choreographer. In 1964 he moved to the Bolshoi Theatre, where he would work as an artistic director until 1995. His most famous productions at the Bolshoi were The Nutcracker (1966), Spartacus (1967), and Ivan the Terrible (1975). He controversially reworked Swan Lake to produce a happy end for the story in 1984. In 1995, he was accused of having allowed the theatre to plunge into stagnation and was ousted from office. Thereupon he choreographed for various Russian companies before settling in Krasnodar, where he set up his own company. After the death of his wife, the ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova, in 2008, he was offered the opportunity to return to the Bolshoi again in the capacity of ballet master and choreographer, an offer he evidently did not accept. Although famous for his own choreography, it is evident that he retains a great familiarity with the works of predecessors Folkine and even Petipa, as many of the pieces in this program were reproductions of the classical performances.

The program opened with “Le Spectre de la Rose”, a ballet of the Ballets Russes based on a poem by Théophile Gautier. The music, by Carl Maria von Weber, was his 1819 piano piece Invitation to the Dance, in the 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz. Choreography was by Michel Fokine and set and costume design by Léon Bakst. It premiered on April 19, 1911 by the Ballets Russes in the Théâtre de Monte Carlo, with the great Nijinsky in the title role. The ballet, for two dancers, is sweet and simple. A young woman inhales the scent of a rose before drifting off to sleep in her chair. The spirit of the rose enters in her dream, and leads her into a rapturous and romantic dance. He departs as the dream ends. Neither of us had ever seen this piece performed before, and were surprised, because it was a purely pretty a piece of ballet as we have seen. Vladimir Morozov as the Spectre was lighter on his feet and more graceful than any danceur I can recall, and worked wonderfully well with the tiny and nearly doll-like Anna Zhukova in the role of the dreaming girl.

(On an irreverent note, one can imagine that this ballet may be partly responsible for the idea that male ballet dancers are “poofs,” since the classical costume consists of a pink one-shouldered unitard decorated with petals and rosebuds, and a matching headpiece. I would say, it takes a Real Man to get out and dance in that outfit. This version showed off Morozov’s athletic physique to good effect, and he carried it off with confidence.)

Another famous piece we had never seen is the ballet “Raymonda.” This suite from the ballet was choreographed by Grigorovich, with parts from Marius Petipa, to the music by Alexander Glazunov. We got a lengthy excerpt from the Second act, in which the Saracen king Abderakhman attempts to woo Raymonda by demonstrating his power and riches as shown by his sizable entourage of dancing slaves and servants, Raymonda, however, prefers to remain betrothed to Jean de Brienne, brother to the King of Hungary, and turns him down. When he tries to carry her off by force, de Brienne and his brother come to the rescue, culminating in a single combat between the two suitors, in which Abderakhman is dealt his deathblow, and begs Raymonda’s forgiveness before expiring. Raymonda and de Brienne dance a pas de deux celebrating her rescue.

This scene had very strong dancing by Dimity Gorlov as Abderakhman, who is by far the most interesting character. Most of the time is taken up various groups of the corps as his followers doing different vaguely exotic dances. I must admit my eyebrows raised at the six dancers costumed as ‘blackamoors’ complete with dark makeup. I know standards of “political correctness” and racial sensitivity are very different in Russia than here, but I really couldn’t see any compelling reason, other than tradition, for this choice, since there’s not much logic in the rest of the group, which includes “mariscos” or Spanish dancers as well.

The audience, which seemed to include most of Milwaukee’s expatriate Russian community, didn’t seem to object, and it must be admitted that the dance, as dance, was charming. (And the same dancers also portrayed Arabs, Persians, and Tatars, which they ethnically are not, either--.)

There was then a “brief” intermission—actually a half-hour—I don’t know if this was due to backstage issues or the house making up for lost bar time.

In the second part, we got a lot of shorter dances or excerpts:

The act started off with the street scene from the second act of “Don Quixote,” featuring the “Street Dancer,” and a group of toreadors, which was well done, but not flashy.

This was followed by the prelude and Waltz #7 from “Chopiniana,” which was a very nice small ballet in the Romantic style, and which recreated postures and gestures as well as steps.

Elena and Marina Louzins, Ksenia Burmistrova, and Svetlana Papazyan gave us as good a “Dance of the Cygnets” as we have seen.

This was followed by the Tango from Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Golden Age,” which is another piece that was new to us. The “Golden Age” is the Jazz Age, in which this first of Shostakovich’s ballets was written, and the Tango is a bluesy, jazzy take on the form.
Next, we had a curiously old-fashioned “Dance of the Four Gentlemen” from “The Sleeping Beauty.” This is a style in which the function of the male dancer is to lift or twirl the female dancer when it is his turn, and to pose thematically otherwise. The role of Aurora was very prettily danced by Ekaterina Konobeeva, but about all the men got to do was model their handsome 16th century cavalier costumes.

Rachmaninov’s “Spring Waters”, danced by Vladimir Morozov and Marina Luzina, was a very athletic and active dance, costumed in neo-classical Greek outfits.
The duet from “Scheherazade,” music by Rimsky-Korsakov, and choreography by Fokine, was, from a pure dance viewpoint, one of the highlights of the program, along with “Le Spectre.” The dancers (I think it was Tatiana Vladmirova and Alexander Schlukov—two couples were listed as possible, and no announcement made as to which--) performed the long pas de deux with grace and fire.

The program wound up with Borodin’s “Polovstian Dances—which was the first time we’d seen them actually danced. The first parts, “Gliding Dance of the Maidens,’ and “Wild Dance of the Men,” were quite a bit more balletic than folkloric, until we got to “Dance of the Boys,” which had a more ethnic character. The “General Dance” which ended the show, looked like good old Broadway hoofing to us, but was well done and good fun. The dancers were costumed as more-or-less Mongols, and the women as more-or-less Circassians, which leaves us with a good question as to where Polovstan (Polovstia?) is anyway--.
Overall the production was most impressive, with a couple of full-scale backdrops that must be a pain to travel with, and a full complement of gorgeous costumes, with “Raymonda” and “Golden Age” having the most beautiful outfits. I was a bit curious as to the use of obviously wooden swords in “Raymonda” and ludicrously small bows in “Polovstian Dances,” but these days I suppose it’s easier to travel internationally without any realish weaponry, even if bows and swords.

Ads touted the show as a “once in a lifetime” event, and, for Milwaukee, I suspect that’s true. One of two performances was canceled, and the remaining one was lightly attended, so I doubt they’ll be back. A pity, too, since the program implied that they were also touring Katchaturian’s “Spartacus” and Adam’s “Le Corsair,” both of which are rarely performed over here, and it would have been nice to have a chance to see them.

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Tags: ballet

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