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IMPERIAL RUSSIAN BALLET. Artistic director Gediminas Taranda. Presented by Edouard Miasnikov. At the Baxter Theatre. SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.
ONCE again, the Russian Imperial Ballet Company has paid a fleeting visit here. During a programme comprising Carmina Burana, Walpurgis Night and divertissement, the audience communicated, by rapturous applause, the continuing enthusiasm for the mystique that has surrounded Russian ballet ever since Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes hit Paris in 1909.
However, this is 2012. Russia is no longer an inaccessible country. Through travel it’s possible to see the Kirov and Bolshoi ballet companies on their own territory. Readily available DVDs can bring the best of Russian choreography and dancers into ballet lovers’ living rooms.
Yet the belief persists that if its Russian ballet, it must be good. While there is valuable talent at the Imperial Russian Ballet company, it disappointed that artistic director Gediminas Taranda didn’t provide a fresh programme, worthy of showcasing his dancers to better advantage.
Seen on previous visits, Maya Murdmaa’s choreography of Carmina Burana to Carl Orff’s famous music has not changed to adequately reflect the bawdiness of this early 13th century song collection.
Best said is it brought an opportunity to witness the acrobatic flexibility of Ekaterina Tikanova as the Angel. It also gave glimpses of the men’s agility as, with beer mugs in hand, they frolicked about in a state of drunkenness in Taberna.
Although Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) begins the last act of Gounod’s opera Faust, it now stands as a one-act ballet in its own right. This (uncredited) version represents May 1 when Spring overtakes Winter, when witches, and their sidekicks, have their last spree.
Pans and nymphs romp about, with much humour displayed by Denys Simon with his barrel turns and grace shown by Oxana Sharova, Anna Pashkova and Maria Larikova as nymphs wearing flowing mid-thigh chiffon costumes and scarves.
In their rather tame Bacchanal pas de deux, Lina Seveliova, partnered by Nariman Bekzanov, performed their stunts with gymnastic ease, but choreographically it lacked the excitement and thrill associated with bacchanal.
The divertissement included the Don Quixote pas de deux, The Dying Swan, Adagio from Spartacus, Don’t Leave Me and a Sleeping Beauty pas de deux. Of these, two solos stand apart – Sharova’s Dying Swan and Pashkova’s Don’t Leave Me.
Choreographed in 1907 by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova, The Dying Swan (Le Cygne) has become a party piece for many dancers. I have seen it dozens of times, but rarely seen as beautiful and moving a performance as Sharova turned in. By taking Saint-Saëns’s music at a slightly slower tempo than usual, Sharova’s exquisite port de bras avoided the “flap, flap, flapping” of arms by many interpreters and her tiny pas de bourrée couru helped epitomise a beautiful swan in its last moments.
For Don’t Leave Me, Elena Bogdanovich set her contemporary choreography to Zhak Brell. She successfully tapped into Pashkova’s wide technical and emotional range, making this and Sharova’s Dying Swan the evening’s highlights.
Unfortunately, Taranda’s tasteless Can-Can did little to enhance this company’s image, but appreciation is extended for upgrading the sound quality. All recordings made pleasing listening.
Capetonians warmly receive visiting ballet/dance companies. Perhaps for their next visit, the Russian Imperial Ballet Company can present a full programme at a technical and artistic level which truly echoes Russia’s great ballet tradition.