Kirov Ballet : The Sleeping Beauty - La Bayadere - Swan Lake - Jewels - Romeo and Juliet - The Ballets of Fokine

The very special Kirov Ballet ( has uncovered for me a new world, as I did when Francesca was a little girl and I put her in Roma's La Accademia Nazionale di Danza. I really thought she could become a ballerina, but maybe all mothers have the same dream (they are known to live their dreams through their children). She stayed there for three years. Every year I used to cry at the end of the season seeing her on stage when the children gave an end-of-season performance. Little thing, she looked like something out of the Kirov ballet to me! But when she became 19 she went to live with her father and I try not to know anything about what she is doing now. I do not want to get involved with her as she behaves like her father and profoundly irritates me. I was a ballet mother and when my daughter began to hate to go to ballet lessons and lost her place in the Accademia I nearly had a heart attack. But it was obviously not in my daughter's best interests to study ballet but I thought it was for me: I think I was an absurd mother.

The Kirov Ballet, as I could hear from the public comments during the interval and from people leaving the theatre, was always OUTSTANDING. PERFECT! MAGNIFICENT! with a unique extraordinary physical power, almost like levitation. When you think that a ballerina has to train for years, I mean forever, every day, for hours on end, the body has to be perfect, 'skin and bone' and lots of muscles. When you see then walking in the street you know they are dancers as they are very well balanced. Would-be Kirov dancers first attend the St Petersburg Vaganova School. This leads to the Mariinsky Theatre and, ultimately, to the Kirov Ballet that has been directed since 1997 by Vaziev whose ballerinas become terrific "Box Office". They have a problem keeping the balance between the old generation that are still outstanding dancers and the new generation: there is something of a jealous conflict between the generations.

My first visit to the ballet this season was to "The Sleeping Beauty", originally created for the Kirov, with the story taken from the tales of Charles Perrault and music by Tchaikovsky. The choreography was by Marius Petipa - a supreme showman - and reconstructed by Sergei Vikharev (it was only possible after the end of the Communist regime). The performance I saw was conducted by Gianandrea Noseda with an orchestra brought from Russia. I immediately fell in love with the perfect, glorious performance of Altynai Asylmuratova (at 39) as Princess Aurora, from whose performance it was obvious that she had been Kirov-trained. She is an enchanting goddess of dance, and I was really fortunate to see this supreme ballet. This dancer is now the Director of the Vaganova School, the summit of the Russian classical school. This production from 1890 is a total work of art. This historic "Sleeping Beauty" shows us the origins of the ballet with its French cultural influence of Marius Petipa, a Frenchman who went to Russia. At the age 72 he devised the libretto and choreography and worked closely with Tchaikovsky. So "The Sleeping Beauty" became a sensational success from its first production, the same as it today, 110 years later. The costumes are unbelievably luxurious, paying homage to the court of Louis XIV (where ballet was born), and the production features breathtakingly rich settings, particularly the ornately patterned ceilings! The corps de ballet was SUBLIME! This revival of the original production has restored the miming gestures and the walking roles. Tsar Alexander III went to the premiere and said "Very nice". But, for me, this was four hours of great ballet.

"La Bayadere" has music by Ludwig Minkus, libretto and choreography by Marius Petipa and Sergei Khudekov. The premiere was on 23 January 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre, (Francesca and I saw "La Bayadere" for the first time at the Bastille Opera, Paris, and for us it was love at first sight and great emotion and it still is, at least for me, the unforgettable "La Bayadere"). But, here again, the superb corps de ballet leaves you speechless; 32 women floating in crystal uniformity, so precise, so identical; it takes decades to create a corps de ballet of this magnificence!

"Swan Lake" was a great discovery for me. I loved it immensely - music by Tchaikovsky, libretto by Vladimir Begitchev and Vassily Geltser, choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (1895). It tells the story of a woman who turns into a swan, making use of Nordic and Celtic legends in which Russian and Persian princes turned into swans. Odette is doomed to live as a swan. The effectiveness of the contrast between the black and the white swans gliding over the romantic lake seeing their reflections in the water is all due to Igor Ivanov's brilliant lighting effects. It is quite poignant with the black and the white portraying, as it were, good and evil. With the plumage of the feathered costumes, you really get the impression they are swans. This version is a Soviet re-make from 1950 but it is still magic. Again, 32 corps de ballet are the stars, moving in absolute unison, perfectly attuned to each other. As a contrast from the setting of the 'ethereal' lake there are dances - including the lively Spanish dance, the Mazurka and also Hungarian and Neapolitan dances. After 105 years, this "Swan Lake" is still MARVELLOUS!

"Jewels", act I is called "Emeralds" with incidental music from Gabriel Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande" and "Shylock". Act II is called "Rubies" with music from Stravinsky's "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra" Act III is "Diamonds" with music from Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No 3 in D Major" (movements 2,3,4 and 5). I was fascinated by this ballet. The colours of the three jewels were brought out in the costumes of the dancers. George Balanchine, a Russian who immigrated to New York in the 1920s, choreographed this ballet in 1967. He reinvented the ballet and is one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th Century. "Jewels" is a ballet in three Acts with no actual story but divertissements, with the theme being the three jewels as previously mentioned. Elegant, romantic, and lyrical, the setting is green for Emeralds". Then Faure, hot and jazzy, helps to create in a red setting for "Rubies". Stravinsky gave a touch of the circus, modern, energetic and very American, also aristocratic, for "Diamonds", in an ice-white setting. "Jewels" was created in 1967 for Balanchine's New York City Ballet - the success in London was so great that they had to give extra performances, really extraordinary!

"Romeo and Juliet" features music by Sergei Prokofiev. He was living in Paris in 1934 and going to Russia very often so the Kirov asked him to write a ballet based on Shakespeare's story in 1935. But the actual Kirov premiere did not take place until 1940 with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky and Galina Ulanova. Iit had its debut 10 years later at Covent Garden with the Bolshoi Ballet, so this is the version used today. Since 1995, under the direction of Makhar Vaziev, the Kirov has re-invented the repertoire of the 19th Century classics. The present-day set is beautiful and evocative of Veronese style, majestic, with imposing city aristocrats, full of Renaissance grandeur. (Francesca and I went to Verona and, of course, to the famous balcony, and we played Juliet hoping Romeo would answer but we never got as much as an echo! All female tourists hope, after they have touched the sculpture of Juliet, that Romeo will appear in their lives). "Romeo and Juliet" has a heartbreaking death scene. Galina Ulanova was the first Juliet and since then, she has been the role model for succeeding Juliets. When Altyna Asylmuratova, as Juliet, runs like a child down from the balcony to her Romeo, the scene is absolute romantic.

"The Ballets of Fokine" is a Kirov tribute to the great choreographer Mikhail Fokine, regarded as the father of 20th Century ballet. He was the first to fuse steps and gestures to create a flow of movement, integration of dance, music and design, giving them style and meaning. He also freed dancers from the constraints of virtuosity, releasing the body to articulate emotion in a natural way. This began with "Petrushka" in 1911, an example of more independent dance gestures for the dancer, and it was considered one of the masterpieces of the Russian ballet. Designs set and costumes by Alexandre Benois, very well reproduced in this new production, a story of a showman and his street theatre, containing much mime. Music by Igor Stravinsky, libretto by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois. Choreography by Milkhail Fokine restaged by Sergei Vikharev. It was originally premiered in 1911 in Paris but the premiere of this production took place on 8 May 2000 at the Mariinsky Theatre. The Second Act featured "Spectre de la Rose" with dancers in a romantic fantasy with music by Carl Maria von Weber, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz, libretto and choreography by Mikhail Fokine, first produced by him for Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky for the 1911 season at Monte Carlo - a dreamy atmosphere of love and roses. Fokine's talent spread to dances for the corps de ballet with its wild and passionate warriors, Persian slave girls, "Polovtsian Dances" as seen in "Scheherazade" 1910, based on "A Thousand and One Nights": a wonderful camp affair with pink chiffon harem pants, diamond-encrusted bodices, draperies of electric blue-green, sets with sensuous scenes of seductive dancing, sizzling with adult sexuality, lusty and voluptuousness. Faroukh Ruzimatov played an extravagant Golden Slave! This ballet caused an outrage in Paris in 1910 on the night it was premiered!

Verinha Ottoni


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