Friday, September 20, 2013

A FESTIVAL OF RUSSIAN BALLET



The Imperial Russian Ballet Company



Canberra Playhouse – 17-19 September



Reviewed by Bill Stephens
 
The Imperial Russian Ballet is a large Moscow-based ballet company, under the artistic directorship of Gediminas Taranda, which constantly tours the world, offering lavish productions of the most popular ballets in the classical repertoire. 

Canberra has previously seen several productions from the Imperial Russian Ballet Company. This year’s offering was a program of “the best bits” from the repertoire, plus a couple of new creations, under the title of “A Festival of Russian Ballet”.


This proved a winning recipe as the three scheduled Canberra performances were sold out prior to the arrival of the company. Of course, it may also have been due to the fact that the performances were presented in the Playhouse rather than the much larger Canberra Theatre. If so, it was a shame because in the event, the Playhouse stage proved too small for several of the items, especially the Nutcracker excerpts that opened the program.

Though entitled “The Nutcracker”, all the excerpts were from Act 11 of the ballet. The tedious first act being replaced with a voice-over explaining what went before, while an amiable Drosselmeyer (ballet-master Vitautas Taranda) strode the stage displaying a large nutcracker doll, before commanding the curtain to rise for the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” which was danced among falling snow flakes. The section featured the famous Spanish, Chinese and Russian dances, an excellent way of introducing the various soloists of the company, as well as the lovely “Waltz of the Flowers”, performed, unfortunately, in rather lumpy unflattering costumes.

Clara was danced enchantingly by Lina Seveliova, partnered by Nariman Bekzhanov. Somehow though their grand Pas de Deux didn’t generate the excitement it should have, possibly because of the limited stage space, which seemed to cramp Bekzhanov in particular, and inhibit their timing. Elsewhere, the ensemble had to compromise lines and spacing to move between positions resulting in an untidy effect. Judging from the program photographs,  the scenery for this segment also looked seriously compromised to fit into the available space. 

Lena Seveliova and Company 


Seveliova had opportunity to display her versatility later in the program when she appeared as a cheeky Kitri, partnered by the alarmingly athletic Constantine Teaci, in an excerpt from next year’s program, the full-length “Don Quixote”. She then danced the beautiful pas de deux from “Giselle”, for which she was elegantly partnered by Alexandru Balan, often giving the impression of floating ethereally above the stage. Hopefully, one day we’ll get to see her dance the full-length ballet.
 
Russian Emperial Ballet perform "Bolero"
 
The other major work on the program was a dramatic version of “Bolero” danced to the famous music of Ravel. For this ballet, both the men and women of the large ensemble, were costumed in all-over black body suits, richly trimmed in gold, over which they wore gold lame-lined black skirts. The choreography made much use of these skirts to stunning visual effect.

Descending from her position high above the rest of the dancers, Elena Colesnicenco, dressed in a figure-hugging gold body- suit, was a striking figure dancing the central role of the God Head, to Nariman Bekzhanov’s strongly realised Head Priest.

Anna Pashkova in "Ne Me Quittes Pas" 
 
A selection of divertissement made up the final act, which provided several opportunities to enjoy the work of a stunning dancer, Anna Pashkova. Her first solo, a demure and charming piece called, “Russian Dance” hinted at her strong stage presence and impressive technique. She then danced a solo entitled “Ne Me Quittes Pas” which was spoilt by the over-amplification of the familiar Jacques Brel music. However, during “The Carmen Suite”, leading the female ensemble, she dominated the stage, with her flirtatious sensuality and brilliant dancing.

Among the other soloists Denys Simon impressed with his fire-cracker “Gopak”, and ballerina, Anastasia Homitcaia contributed a beautifully realised “The Dying Swan”. However her “La Corsaire Pas De Deux” danced with Nariman Bekzhanov, failed to ignite, possibly because the lack of space appeared to upset the timing. Or perhaps it was because Bekzhanov’s bare torso revealed a distractingly obvious tattoo which seemed glaringly out of place on a tatar warrior.

The program contained two lightweight short works choreographed by Artistic Director Taranda. The first, a prettily costumed piece, “The Dance of the Horses”, inspired by the Melbourne Cup and performed to some jaunty music by Rossini, in which the dancers pranced like horses and jockeys. The other was a campy “Can Can Surprise”` which featured the female ensemble dancing Offenbach’s familiar Can Can, while the heavily tattooed Dmitrii Popov, as Dame Vitautas, cavorted with two diminutive cavaliers and the male ensemble to provide a diverting, if slightly puzzling, finale to this Festival of Russian Ballet.  

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