Kirov Ballet : Asylmurtova - Mukamedov - Diana Vishneva - Igor Zelensky - Danil Korsuntsov - Marius Petipa - White Nights - Mikhail Fokine - Serge Diaghilev
Rudolf Hametovich Nureyev - Margot Fonteyn

The Irek Mukhamedov Company ( at Sadler's Wells this season staged Sita, choreographed by Darshan Singh Bhuller with music by Talvin Singh. Sita, the legendary Hindu goddess of agricultural land, is danced byAltynai Asylmuratova, who appears continuously on stage, symbolises fertility, rolling around in the crops in a contemporary style, lying in a furrow to prevent the crops from failing. The two stars, Asylmurtova and Mukamedov, were rolling over one another as they embraced, in this ballet that was choreographed especially for them. This was followed by Some You Win, a jazz ballet by Gillian Lynne with music by George Gershwin, with Asylmuratova dressed in a chic black Armani dress. Finally, the dancers performed The Unobtrusive Detail, music by Chopin, featuring a complex male-female relationship.

Altynai Asylmuratova was born a Tartar in Kazakhstan in 1961. Known as "the divine"; she carries on the great Russian tradition of technique and artistry in classical ballet. Her successor, Uliana Loptakina, 25, graduated from the Vaganova Academy. Director Madame Kurgapkina, who provided the real backbone of Russian dancing for nearly a century, was a principal dancer before she began teaching in the 1960s. Loptakina made great advances at the Academy, learning, as she put it, "about my body and how to cope with it", and finally joining the Kirov in 1991. As its principal, she dances both classical and character roles. This season, she danced in La Bayadere.

There are many outstanding members of the Kirov, including Veronika Part, 21, who made her debut in London this year in Swan Lake, as Odette/Odile. She also danced and played the role of Diamonds in the ballet Jewels. Svetlana Zhakarova was just 17 when she became the youngest to dance in Sleeping Beauty and Scheherazade.

Diana Vishneva, 24, the old lady of the baby ballerinas at the Kirov, danced the role of Rubies in Jewels. She danced Kitri when still a student at the Mariinsky Theatre in Don Quixote and brought the house down! She is the partner of Faroukh Ruzimatov, a principal at the Kirov. Ruzimatov has been a huge star in Russia for the last 20 years. He is very famous for dancing Albrecht in Gisele and Ali the slave in The Corsaire, with an exuberant technique that always guarantees a thrilling performance. He has, this season, performed in Scheherazade and La Bayadere.

Igor Zelensky, 31, a very muscular, tall, blond Slav, has danced with many of the world's greatest dancers including Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell. Igor and Darcey have been dancing together for five years, first in Canada, then with the New York City Ballet; she has also danced with him in the Kirov two years ago. In return, she asked the Royal Ballet to invite Zelensky to London where they did Manon for the Royal Ballet, and Scheherazade in her debut in London with the Kirov: a hot duo! (I saw a waxwork of her in Madame Tussaud ) Together, Zelensky and Bussell have a great chemistry and a great partnership. For the Kirov season, he has danced in Jewels, Scheherazade and La Bayadere. Zelensky stayed two years in Berlin and five in New York, returning to St Petersburg in 1997.

Danil Korsuntsov trained for nine years with the Bolshoi Ballet and is now a principal with the Kirov. He was spotted two years ago by Makhar Vaziev, Director of the Kirov since 1997. In London, Korsuntsov has danced in Swan Lake and Jewels. Finally, Anastasia Volochkova has also starred at the London Palladium with special guest Irek Mukhamedov in Ikons.

The highlight of this season was the White Nights at the ROH, attended by Princess Alexandra in aid of the Friends of the Kirov Opera and Ballet and the ROH Trust, a gala concert conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Marius Petipa, the Kirov 's most famous choreographer, was born in Marseilles, on 11 March 1818 (d. 1910). He came from a family of dancers. His father, a choreographer, teacher and dancer, brought up Marius and his brother Lucien to be dancers, Lucien becoming a star in Paris but Marius danced in Nantes, Bordeaux, Spain and a season in New York with his father. Then in 1847 he went to the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg as principal dancer, starring in the ballet Paquita that was created in Paris the previous year. He composed works of his own: The Swiss Milkmaid (1849), was his first original composition in St Petersburg. His Pharaoh 's Daughter (1862), based on a novel by Gautier, established him as one of the great choreographers. Petipa then became one of the company's official ballet-masters and, in 1869, he took charge of the Mariinsky Company.

In today's Royal Opera House, his choreography still survives in The Sleeping Beauty (1890, libretto by Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky), for which he asked Tchaikovsky to write the music. Vsevolozhsky also designed the costumes and worked closely with the set designers. As Vsevolozhsky was the Director of the Imperial Theatre from 1881 to 1899, he was also in charge of the Bolshoi and Maly Theatres in Moscow, and in St Petersburg, the Mariinsky, the Alexandrinsky and the Mikhailovsky Theatres. He was a very powerful and cultured man even if his name did not appear in the advertising posters. His libretto for The Sleeping Beauty, based on the tales of Charles Perrault, was written in conjunction with Petipa. Tchaikovsky 's music established him as the father of this balletic art for the whole future of the history of ballet. Tchaikovsky composed Swan Lake (1875), another of his immortal works. It was performed for the first time in the Russian capital in memory of Tchaikovsky, three months after his death, at the Mariinsky Theatre in February, 1894. The choreography of Petipa and Lev Ivanov was completed in 1895. Proceeds of the memorial performance went towards a monument to Tchaikovsky.

Petipa also choreographed Raymonda (1898), Don Quixote (1869), and La Bayadere (1877), his last great success at the Mariinsky Theatre. His leading lady Vazem later taught both Anna Pavlova and Agrippina Vaganova. With him, the Mariinsky Ballet was to grow into the grandest and he was considered to be the principal architect of the Russian Ballet. After running the Company for 56 years he retired and died at Gurzuf in the Crimea on 14 July, 1910.

Mikhail Fokine, another of Russia 's greatest choreographers, was a dancer of the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg. He was also an amateur painter, and said, "dancing should be expressive and should reflect the feeling of the character portrayed". He got away from the original concept of the dancer in a tutu whatever the role, demanding that, for example, if a dancer portrayed an Egyptian princess, she would wear an appropriate costume. So, with today's Kirov Ballet, we understand more of his genius in the creation of Chopiniana and the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, with their departure from the 'tutu' stereotype. In 1910, Fokine visited Paris and created, for Diaghilev, Scheherazade, The Firebird and a revival of Le Carnaval. Fokine and Benois together created for Diaghilev Petrushka, with music by Stravinsky. With this ballet music, dance and design all joined in a single voice. In 1911, Fokine also devised the Le Spectre de la Rose for Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky.

Serge Diaghilev's collaboration with Fokine changed the way Europeans looked at ballet, theatre, dance, decoration, emotion. You can see, in the dramatic colours of Scheherazade, the emergence of the new dance drama of the 20th Century. Fokine, Nijinsky, Bakst and Benois, along with composers like Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, all worked together for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Their creations were of a very innovative style and changed dance forever. Diaghilev, as impresario, was the 'boss' of Nijinsky who, as choreographer, created Le Sacre du Printemps. The ballet Jeux was also choreographed by Nijinsky for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris. This features tennis as a scene from modern life and a primitive religious rite. L'Apres-midi d'un Faune makes artistic reference to archaic Greek sculpture. This ballet has survived from Nijinsky's repertoire, and, shocking at the time of its early performances, it is famous for simulated masturbatory orgasm! Sacre du Printemps, considered by many to be the first true ballet of the 20th Century, was greeted by the Parisian audience with jeers, abuse and applause all at once,. Jeux, at the same Paris theatre, is about a menage a trois, was the first time female homosexuality was expressed on stage. It is said that Diaglihev was fascinated by the idea of having sex with two boys at the same time.

Rudolf Hametovich Nureyev was, at the age of 23, travelling with the Kirov ballet in Paris when he asked for political asylum. In the middle of the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall firmly in place, this defection made the world 's front pages: the Russian who had betrayed his motherland for a Frenchwoman! The rest of the Kirov Company continued on to London and made their debut at Covent Garden; Soviet Ballet had to survive without him!

Nureyev started his lifelong relationship with the dancer Erik Bruhn, a Danish dancer, and in Copenhagen he met Vera Voklova, the Russian dancer who had taught Margot Fonteyn. Fonteyn had been invited to dance for a charity gala at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and had no partner, so she called on the Kirov defector Nureyev and it was a sensational success. Lady Diana Cooper said to her neighbour Cecil Beaton that he was better than Nijinsky. Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet, engaged Nureyev for Giselle and asked Fonteyn, who was 19 years his senior, to dance with him. Fonteyn then called Madame, to tell her that she had decided to take the role. (de Valois liked to be known simlpy as Madame. If someone asked her what they shevould call her, she would say "Call me Madame"; incidentally, she is now over 100 years old).

Nureyev handled Fonteyn with arrogant aplomb and with natural authority, so at their debut together at ROH they got 23 curtains calls - incredible, can you imagine! Fonteyn then took a rose from her bouquet and handed it to Nureyev who dropped onto one knee and lavished her hand with kisses and a legend was born. This couple electrified the English ballet with their magnetism; they could now compete with the superiority of the Russians and the energy of the Americans. With his training, Nureyev injected new life into the English ballet. Before going on stage he used to get very neurotic, swearing and shouting and changing his shoes obsessively, thus creating a tension with his leading ladies, but generating an animal magnetism. As Fonteyn danced for over 50 years there was no longer an age-limit on ballerinas.

With this partnership, Fonteyn owed him her second life as a ballerina and Nureyev owed her his second home. He lived in London for 20 years, in Richmond. The mystery of whether they were lovers or not created more fantasy for the public and was very good for the box office! Nureyev preferred boys and had a prodigious appetite for casual sex. Rent-boys were always available at the back of the ROH. He was vain and very brutal with Margot, calling her all sorts of names. He treated his friends very well but lovers like dirt. When Margot's husband Tito Aria was shot by a jealous husband in Panama Margot spoon-fed him but had to continue to work to pay his hospital and medical bills.

Rudolf died of AIDS eight years ago in Paris at the age of 54, looking far older than his age: it was terribly sad. In Paris mourners queued for hours in the dreadful cold. In New York and Vienna, he was like a monarch or statesman. In Russia his life was commemorated everywhere he had danced. Last year was the seventh anniversary of his death so his friend, the conductor Gennady Zaikowitsch, also Russian and Nureyev's neighbour in Paris, organised "A Homage to Nureyev - a Royal Gala of Russian Splendour" in the presence of Princess Margaret. It was a Russian programme because Rudolf and the conductor were Russians. There were extracts from works of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Glazunov and Mussorgsky, and took place at the Royal Albert Hall, October 1999.

Talking about ballet, let us not forget the night the late Princess Diana danced for her husband at the ROH, dancing Billy Joel's famous song "Uptown Girl" with Wayne Sleep. She did not like opera unless Pavarotti was singing, but she loved ballet and went very often to the ROH. She danced looking in the direction of Charles who tried to look pleased. He said she was terrific, but in fact thought her dress too sexy and slinky and all a bit distasteful for a Princess. When they got divorced she dropped her patronage of many organisations but kept six of them including the English National Ballet but she avoided the ROH!


Verinha Ottoni


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