Choreography Vakhtang Chabukiani revised by Mikhail Messerer
Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev, soloists and dancers of the Mihailovsky Ballet
2 and 3 April 2013
By Judith Cruikshank
copyright 2013 by Judith Cruikshank
The Mihailovsky Ballet is becoming a regular visitor to London, the current season being its third appearance in five years. The company has the advantage of a repertory which includes some interesting rarities. I remember a charming production of Petipa’s ‘Cavalry Halt’, extracts from ‘The fisherman and the Naiad’ on an earlier when the company was still known as the Maly, and a revival of Vakhtang Chabukiani’s ‘Laurencia’ staged by Mikhail Messerer was a highlight of the 2010 season and drew enthusiastic applause on this latest visit.
The ballet had its premiere in 1939, but in an interview given earlier Chabukiani told the press; “The thought captivates me of doing some work on a performance about the new Spain, of the struggle of the Spanish people for their freedom and independence”. He added that it was not just the “rich Spanish local colour” which drew him to the subject but also “the contemporary experiences of the Spanish people” who were then engulfed by the Spanish Civil War.
Messerer has deprived the heroine of the real donkey on which Maya Plisetskaya rode when she danced the title role, he has also simplified the action and cut some numbers, though this has the disadvantage of making parts of the action seem somewhat arbitrary. But what remains is a coherent story and a series of dazzling dances originally made to show off the talents of the Mariinsky’s dancers and the stunning virtuosity and temperament of the young Natalia Dudinskya and Chabukiani himself, widely reckoned to be one of the greatest dancers of the Soviet era, a claim backed up by snippets of him dancing both in ‘Laurencia’ and several other famous roles.
Today’s power couple are Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev who were lured from the Bolshoi Ballet to the Mihailovsky by the promise of a wider range of roles than the Bolshoi would offer them. Given their undoubted triumph in the spanisheries of ‘Don Quixote’ it could be imagined that ‘Laurencia’ would be a shoe-in, but as is so often the case, it’s not as simple as that.
Osipova fares best. Her sparkling personality, wondrous light jump and fast accurate turns all display to splendid advantage. She’s irresistible as the feisty peasant girl, splashing her suitor Frondoso with water from the spring as he tries to interrupt her laundry duties with his wooing. She’s both angry and concerned when her friend Jacinta is assaulted by the commander’s guards. Only towards the end when she mocks the villagers for their cowardice and incites them to revenge does her acting become conventional and this may be as much a fault of the staging that any failure on her part.
Vasiliev’s performance was more problematic. First of all the costumes, based on the original designs by Vadim Ryndin, do him few favours, drawing attention to his long torso and shortish, heavy legs. And for some reason he has chosen to adorn his upper lip with a pencil moustache, presumably a homage to Chabukiani who habitually sported a similar moustache to underline his Georgian ethnicity.
Frondoso’s variations are laced with steps from genuine Spanish folkdance which Vasiliev seems either to struggle with or ignore. What we do get is a cascade of virtuoso and trick steps; corkscrewing turns, split jumps and seemingly impossible combinations. His elevation in these is prodigious although curiously in a fast manege of jetes it is less remarkable. He celebrates his release from captivity at the hands of the commander with a stunning display of pirouettes. But at one point, watching yet another display of pure physical prowess I found the word “vulgar” springing unbidden to my mind.
His acting is rudimentary, but respectable and in the famous pas de six as far is pure classical dancing is concerned his given a run for his money by the two supporting men, Nikolay Korypayev and Andrey Yakhnyuk, notable for their elegant and accurate performance.
Also deserving of mention are Oksana Bondareva as the ravished Jacinta and especially Sabina Yapparova as Pascuala. Both women danced these roles when the Mihailovsky originally brought ‘Laurencia’ to London and it’s good to see them dance with just as much freshness and even more style and confidence. But this is a really nice company, young, gifted, attractive and well presented.
Perhaps in an ideal world I would like to have seen some of the ensembles performed by that vanished breed known as character dancers, and here I’m not speaking of the current designation which means dancers playing fathers, mothers and elderly eccentrics. Rather I mean that class which specialised in national and folk dances and which was part of the glory of the Russian companies in past years. Often winning the biggest rounds of applause, they brought style, a certain weight and contrast, highlighting the lightness and elegance of their colleagues.
But this is a minor quibble and it is to be hoped that Laurencia will remain a part of the Mihailovsky repertory both in it’s own right and as a tribute to some of the great dancers of the past who played a part in its creation.
Photo: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in "Laurencia."