Review: Mariinsky/Kirov Ballet in Balanchine & Ratmansky programme at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 15 & 16 Oct 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 16 October 2008

The focus of this ground-breaking week – the Mariinsky Ballet’s first-ever visit to Sadler’s Wells – switched from Forsythe to Balanchine in their second programme of dance. Back when St Petersburg was briefly Petrograd, the young Georgi Balanchivadze cut his choreographic teeth making dances for his contemporaries as a young member of this company, so these performances come with a rich veneer of history coated over every step. When a Mariinsky couple performs Balanchine’s homage to Petipa in his *Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux*, this calls upon layers of tradition and meaning that are daily absorbed into their training that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

There has been a lot of silly grumbling about the seniority of the dancers on duty this week; someone said to me that they felt “short-changed” after Monday’s Forsythe bill. It strikes me that even the ‘loose change’ in the Mariinsky’s corps de ballet has a greater value that some of the top earners elsewhere, but this aside, the appearance here of Igor Zelensky as _*Apollo* _should at least have put paid to the celeb-obsessed moanings of the few. The added bonus was a flying one-night only visit from the Maestro, Valery Gergiev (the company’s artistic and general supremo), to conduct only the Stravinsky and Prokoviev scores, allowing him the middle section off to recover from jet-lag.

There’s a tendency towards under-stated elegance in the style of the Mariinsky, which is often misinterpreted as a lack of passion, and sometimes errs towards the apparently complacent. Overall, I think this latter criticism is a fair one to apply to the evening’s performances, although I would certainly exclude from this the young pairing of Vladimir Shklyarov and Olesya Novikova in the Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux’. Here we had a superb exposition of the contrast between the bravura, virtuoso, almost puppyish variations of the man with the delicate precision of his partner, melding these strengths together in their duet.

In Apollo, I found the three muses’ variations to generally lack the pulsating energy dictated by the allegro and allegretto musical pace, although together they formed a strong trio and the central pas de deux between Zelensky and Ekaterina Osmolkina (as Terpsichore) was danced with a graceful authority. The combination of Gergiev and Zelensky unquestionably applied a slow, implacable gravitas to the work.

The inclusion of Alexei Ratmansky’s Middle Duet as a late addition to this programme almost created a UK premiere, had it not been for the fact that a cut-down version of the same work was performed as a part of Ernst Meisner’s Ballet Moves Gala in Dartford, some three years ago. The mechanistic, bouncy, almost clockwork feel of Yury Khanon’s score permeates through Ratmansky’s choreography, a hand in glove integration of music and movement. It was an interesting work to see whole for the first time, which set alongside three of Balanchine’s master works, was like having a pleasant sorbet in the midst of a gourmet feast.

*The Prodigal Son* has long been one of my favourite ballets. Balanchine made the work – a year after Apollo – in 1929 and it captures the narrative of the parable with a wonderfully inventive palette of movement and characterisation. It tells a story in dance and gesture with a simple, stylish clarity that has never been bettered. This said, some of the performances here (especially by Mikhail Lobukhin as the Prodigal and Ekaterina Kondaurova as the Siren) were a little too under-stated for my taste.

What’s On