Monday, January 07, 2008

On their toes

On their toes

St Peterburg's Mariinsky Ballet mixes passion with grace to delight Bangkok audiences

Published on December 13, 2007

For Bangkok ballet aficionados, last week's Bangkok debut by the legendary Mariinsky Ballet from Russia was a dream come true.

The St Petersburg company, the most famous and one of the oldest in the world, was in Thailand to stage a three-part programme in celebration of His Majesty the King's 80th birthday. In addition to the Royal performance on Friday, the Mariinsky troupe drew sell out crowds to the Thailand Cultural Centre on both Thursday and Saturday.

The dream evening started with the romantic reverie "Chopiniana", or "Les Sylphides", a 35-minute plot-free one-act ballet based on five music pieces by Frederic Chopin. The curtain rose to reveal a picturesque tableau of sylphs, forming the vision of poet Yevgeny Ivanchenko in the middle of the composition.

Although the stage was a touch too bright for a beautiful moonlit park where sylphs had gathered, the litheness of the long-limbed ballerinas, all in long white tutus, helped to give a dreamlike quality to the piece. The steps were executed neatly and softly, and Anastasia Kolegova, especially, offered a striking performance with her series of jetes, leaping lightly into the air in a full-out split, flying across the stage, and landing without a sound.

Even though Mikhail Fokine's choreography was simple and largely free of a "wow" factor, the movements were truly graceful and the performance served well as an audience-warming curtain raiser.

The second part of the show, "Divertissement", comprised six short programmes, five of which were presented to Her Majesty the Queen on her state visit to St Petersburg in July.

"Talisman" started off the section with vivacity and grandeur, and the pas de deux really showcased the dancers' virtuosity. Mikhail Lobukhin's big jumps reached impressive heights. The solo, featuring small springy steps en pointe and expressively performed by Ekaterina Osmolinka, was exquisitely delicate and delightful to watch.

Following "Talisman", and setting the audience in a more tranquil mood, was one of the most memorable pieces of the night - "La Rose Malade", inspired by William Blake's poem "The Sick Rose" and set to Gustav Mahler's 5th symphony.

The audience was stunned from the moment Ulyana Lopatkina appeared in a flowing pink dress and, against the stark black backdrop, was lifted by Ivan Kozlov to begin a dance that combined serenity with underlying passion. Roland Petit's modern choreography was absolutely breathtaking. Slow movements and lifts were executed with great control and the chemistry between the two dancers was so strong that it looked very natural when the kiss came in the middle of the piece.

Unfortunately, however, with a full orchestra in the pit, the audience was left to wonder why canned music was used for "La Rose Malade" - the only piece to suffer from this accompaniment - thus spoiling its charm.

Next up was Victor Gsovsky's technically challenging "Auber Grand Pas Classique" with Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov again showcasing the Mariinsky dancers' beautiful physique and technical prowess. The pas de deux was indeed "grand" as titled, but it could have been even better had the music not been a little too slow and soft at the point when the duet reached its peak.

Performed exclusively for Bangkok audiences was the world premiere of "Love Story", a newly choreographed piece by Alexey Miroshnichenko, whose acrobatic steps complemented the fluid, jazzy tunes of HM the King's "Kinnaree Suite".

"The Dying Swan", Lopatkina's second stage appearance, was another highlight, with the audience watching transfixed as her arms morphed into wings and moved with the tremendous feeling of pain in her final struggle. Here, as in "La Rose Malade", Lopatkina showed why she has achieved worldwide fame.

George Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux", with its brisk quality and awe-inspiring choreography, was a noble way to end the "Divertissement". Despite unnecessarily gymnastic high leg movements at times, Alina Somova conquered the technically demanding performance effortlessly and Leonid Sarafanov's perfect execution of pirouettes and double turns in the air brought the audience to its feet in rapturous applause and cheers as the curtain fell for the second intermission.

"Divertissement", with so many memorable pieces of various moods and styles, was without doubt the best of the three parts. And that's perhaps why so many audience members felt let down by the closing piece, "Sch้h้razade".

This dramatic one-act ballet based on the Arabian Nights was a hit in the early 20th century thanks to its exotic scenes, costumes and provocative sexiness. Today, these elements are no longer stirring and it feels dated, especially in comparison to more contemporary pieces like "Romeo and Juliet" or "Manon" by Kenneth MacMillan.

Also, there's little to the ballet in terms of either narrative or choreography and after such an intoxicating "Divertissement", boredom was quick to set in.

That said, Mariinsky's classical finesse was perfect for such a grand occasion and we can only hope that the company will be returning to Bangkok.

In the meantime, with this performance and those of the Stuttgart Ballet and Zurich Ballet, 2007 has indeed been a year to remember for Bangkok's ballet enthusiasts.

Jasmine Baker

Special to The Nation

The writer can be contacted at

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