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Three Centuries of Russian Ballet: The Mikhailovsky Ballet with Mikhailovsky Orchestra at Lincoln Center….

December 4, 2014
The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Ivan Vasiliev in Asaf Messerer’s Class Concert. Photo: Stas Levshin

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Ivan Vasiliev in Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin

On Nov 18 and 19, 2014, the Mikhailovsky Ballet, accompanied by the full Mikhailovsky Orchestra, offered a program entitled Three Centuries of Russian Ballet. Located in St. Petersburg, the company has become a shining jewel in Russian ballet and has attracted such international stars as Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev and Angelina Vorontsova (all formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet) plus Leonid Sarafanov (former with the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet) and the Spanish born Nacho Duato became its resident choreographer in 2011

Ballet has been a part of the tapestry of Russian history since the 17th Century. Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1645–1676), the second Russian tsar of the house of Romanov introduced ballet to Russia as part of his wedding festivities. Peter the Great (1672-1725) took a personal interest in ballet at his court, bringing in Western dances and taking part in them himself. While the Mikhailovsky Theatre, home to the Mikhailovsky Ballet, was founded by Czar Nicholas I in 1833.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet in Petipa’s Le Halte de Cavalerie. Photo: Stas Levshin

The Mikhailovsky Ballet in Petipa’s “Le Halte de Cavalerie.” Photo: Stas Levshin

So when one of the major ballet companies of Russia offers a program entitled Three Centuries of Russian Ballet…a lot is to be expected and unfortunately it did not quite live up to its title. Offered were three one act ballets, Petipa from the 19th century, Asaf Messerer from the 20th century and Nacho Duato’s Prelude from the 21st Century.

Premiering at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in 1975,  Le Halte de Cavalerie (The Cavalry Halt), with music by Ivan Armsheimer, is one of Marius Petipa’s short ballets. Originally created between his Swan Lake (1877) and Raymonda (1898), Le Halte de Cavalerie premiered in 1896 and was revived by Pyotr Gusev in 1968. This is a fun ballet, witty, humorous with nothing heavy or overly dramatic.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Leonid Sarafanov in Petipa’s Le Halte de Cavalerie. Photo: Svetlana Avvakum

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Leonid Sarafanov in Petipa’s “Le Halte de Cavalerie.” Photo: Svetlana Avvakum

From the beginning antics in sue, in a local village two girls are in love with the Peter (Ivan Vasiliev). A tug of war is seen between Maria (Angelina Vorontsova) and Teresa (Olga Semyonova) but Peter (Mr. Vasiliev) already has given his heart to Maria.

A Hussar regiment arrives in the village and the Colonel in charge demands his soldiers are billeted. Alexey Malakhov portrayed a Colonel that just could not get his act together. He is ever amorous and turns his attention to Teresa (Ms. Semyonova) who hopes it will make Peter take notice. The village girls flirt with the men in uniforms to the outrage of their boyfriends…and it ends with a fairy tale like wedding in a castle between Peter and Maria.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Angelina Vorontsova & Ivan Vasiliev in Petipa’s “Le Halte de Cavalerie." Photo: Mikhailovsky Theatre

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Angelina Vorontsova & Ivan Vasiliev in Petipa’s “Le Halte de Cavalerie.” Photo: Mikhailovsky Theatre

The choreography is what it is, plenty of pantomime mixed with some excellent Russian character dancing. But it had more fluff than substance but when created that was its goal…to entertain. Well, entertain it did, every thing about it was charming and I am richer for having seen if…it’s Petipa after all….

Asaf Messerer’s Class Concert, created during the Soviet era, was a head-scratcher…it’s not that I disliked the work it’s just that I did not find it memorable. The work was commissioned during the Soviet era (1963) as a performance exercise for graduates of the Bolshoi Academy. The score is a compilation of music by several Russian composers including Anatoly Lyadov, Anton Rubinstein, Alexander Glazunov and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Leonid Sarafanov in Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.”  Photo: Stas Levshin

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Leonid Sarafanov in Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin

The works is set as if we are spectators watching a ballet class or a year-end recital. We see three young girls standing at a ballet barre ready to begin class. (The work utilized children and young adults from local ballet academies.) Similar scenes were seen as the girls and also boys increased in age and as the ages increased so did the difficulty of the exercises at the barre.

It is presented in a ballet class format,  barre work, then center of the floor work with adagio, turns, petit allégro (small jumps) and then grand allégro (big jumps). The dancers of the Mikhailovsky Ballet are excellent trained and their technique crisp and precise, turns impressive and their jumps amazing.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf  Messerer’s “Class Concert.”  Photo: Stas Levshin

The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin

The question is was Asaf Messerer’s Class Concert the best work that could be shown from Russia’s soviet era? Russian ballet during the Soviet era is somewhat of a mystery to many westerners, besides the Bolshoi Ballet’s 1968 production of Spartacus, choreographed by Yury Grigorovich, little from that era has been seen outside Russia. Thus it was sadly a missed opportunity to really show stronger works from that era.

Nacho Duato’s Prelude is an interpretation of the emotions and impressions which Mr. Duato experienced at the start of a new period of his life – in Russia. It is not about one particular subject but a meeting of the classically trained dancers with Mr. Duato’s contemporary style of choreography. Does Prelude rank alongside some of his classis works such as his 1983 work Jardi Tuncat or Without Words created in 1988? Does it match the brilliance of Mr. Duato’s Duende from 1991 or Depak Ine, commissioned by the Martha Graham Dance Company and premiered at New York City Center earlier this year? For me it did not…

The Mikhailovsky Ballet in Nacho Duato’s “Prelude.” Photo: Nikolay Krusser

The Mikhailovsky Ballet in Nacho Duato’s “Prelude.” Photo: Nikolay Krusser

The score is a mixture of Handel, Beethoven and Britten. Prelude is broken into segments, for lack of a better word, with each segment announced or preceded with a change of scenery. It was somewhat surreal and not in a good way.

This work was created for the Mikhailovsky Ballet on the Mikhailovsky’s dancers but still it lacked a depth, a statement that I have always seen in Mr. Duato’s works. Prelude has a cast of 34 including a large corps de ballet.

 

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