"The Cavalry Halt," "Paquita" and divertissements
July 27, 2008
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2008 by Judith Cruickshank
If you have never heard of St Petersburg's MikhailovskyTheatre, or its opera and ballet companies, don't worry. It used to be known as the Maly, but reverted to its original name when Vladimir Kekhman took over as general director investing millions of dollars of his own money and donations raised from friends and business contacts into the building and the companies it houses.
The opera company is headed by the former Bolshoi diva Elena Obraztsova and the ballet by Farukh Ruzimatov, the former star of the Kirov -- or perhaps we should now say Mariinsky. Ruzimatov took up the post of artistic director in May last year and in addition to staging three new productions, he brought the company to London for its first visit; three programmes and eight performances in just seven days at the London Coliseum, one of the two best theatres for dance in the capital.
Circumstances meant that I was able to catch only one performance, a mixed bill consisting of a Petipa rarity, "The Cavalry Halt," plus the grand pas from "Paquita," sandwiching a series of interesting divertissements. Talking to members of the audience I was sorry to have missed he opening ballet, a new version of "Spartacus" which seems to have out-de Milled Cecil B with spectacular scenery, hundreds of performers including a 70-strong opera chorus plus soloists, and glamorous, if vestigial costumes.
The two live tigers which graced the St Petersburg performances were left behind, but everyone I spoke to seemed to have enjoyed the show, despite the critical mauling it received in the London papers. The "Giselle" which followed it, produced by the distinguished former dancer Nikita Dolgushin, was also favourably spoken of, especially the female corps de ballet in the second act.
However, you couldn't have wished for a more enjoyable programme for a summer Sunday matinée than the one the Mikhailovsy showed and it gave a chance to see more of the company and its dancers than perhaps did the other two.
"The Cavalry Halt" is slight but charming and a chance to see a very different Petipa from the master of "The Sleeping Beauty." Set in an Austrian village, two girls are vying for the love of a boy when a troup of hussars arrives. This provides the opportunity for group dances with soldiers and peasant girls, show-off numbers for the young man, the girl he really loves and her rival who is the subject of attentions from the Cornet, the Captain and even the Colonel himself.
Just how authentic this production is would be difficult to say, but anyone who has seen the reconstructed "Bayadere" or "Sleeping Beauty" will recognise some of the signatures: village girls standing on the soldiers' drums or lifted high onto the shoulders of the circling warriors. The intricate footwork and some of the ports de bras also provided a genuine 19th century flavour. But I doubt that Pavel Gert, the original village swain, ever danced quite such a bounding and athletic variation as did Anton Ploom.
Altogether well danced, with an appropriate sense of style, I thought this showed the company nicely. Anastasia Lomachenkova was charming as the girl who wins her lover and as her rival Olga Semyonova gave sparkling imitations of her three military wooers in her czardas variation. They in turn, resisted the temptation to make their characters complete grotesques and were therefore all the funnier.
The divertissements were a mixed bag and suffered perhaps from a lack of programme notes. I suspect that few in the audience would have realised that Esmeralda, (Ekaterina Borchenko), was dancing at the wedding of the man she loved -- hence her yearning looks downstage right to where Captain Phoebus should have been sitting. More illustrious companies have failed to make much of "The Fairy Doll," however brilliant the Legat brothers may have been in the original, but I greatly admired Sabina Yapparova's frilly tutu ˆ much like the one Pavlova used to wear. Yapparova was joined by Anna Zhuravlyova as the Pearls in Gorsky's "Ocean and the Pearls" trio. The two girls were charming but I could have done with bigger, more expansive dancing from Andrey Yakhnyunk. Zuravlyova flitted charmingly through Pavlova's Dragonfly solo, but the real hit came with that old Soviet favorite, "Spring Waters."
This was danced by Marat Shemiunov and Irina Perrin and given with all the requisite bravura and, dare I say, disregard for refined good taste. The throws and catches were thrillingly done and I admired Perrin's sangfroid as she was carried off stage high above her partner's head; high being the operative word as Shemiunov is a good 6ft 3in.
This was the last item listed for that part of the programme but then the orchestra struck up familiar strains and on came Anastasia and Dennis Matvienko in tasteful mauve to dance the famous pas de deux from "Le Corsaire." She threw off a series of nice accurate, but not especially exciting fouettes and he put so many trick steps in his variation that the general outline was all that was recognisable. Personally, I'm not a fan of tricks; Nureyev, Soloviev and Vasiliev didn't need them to make the audience stand up and cheer, but cheer the Matvienkos they did.
The programme finished with the grand pas from "Paquita" led by Borchenko and Shemiunov. Th four soloists were unnamed and I could recognise only one, but I liked the first and the last; an attractive brunette and a pretty blonde, both of whom danced with style and confidence. Borchenko made less of an impression and although Shemiunov partnered well and gave a dashing account of his variation, he was clearly having a bad costume afternoon. The tiny turquoise and sequin tunic of his Spring Waters costume made his long legs look even longer and the high military collar and epaulettes of the Paquita jacket combined with longish hair made him appear either as if he had a short neck or hunched shoulders -- neither of which is the case.
The corps de ballet were clean and accurate in their entrees, although I could have done with more epaulement. The orchestra, the Mikhailovsky's own, played well throughout the programme, whatever the quality of the music. This is a very nice company, well schooled, with attractive dancers but one of their nicest qualities is their apparent belief that what they are doing is really worthwhile, deserving and receiving their very best efforts.