The Kirov Ballet is back.
Oct. 23, the revered company, based in St. Petersburg, did full justice to the term ‘world-class.’ In the first half of an impressive doubleheader at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Kirov demonstrated a level of artistry with choreography of the great Mikhail Fokine that reminded Southern California why it has been waiting for the company’s return for nearly a decade. The Kirov gave birth to George Balanchine, Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov during its 200-year existence thus far. It has weathered defections, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, fires and budget crises. It is the Titanic that never sank, that still retains all of its old glory and more.
The opening piece ‘Chopiniana’ immediately placed the Kirov in stark contrast to the ballet companies on the American west coast which tend to favor the ‘wow’ factors of power and strength over technique.
The women of the Kirov corps de ballet demonstrated a delicate, exacting technique that came as a surprise to an audience used to seeing the highest leaps by the soloists and unexciting work from the corps. The result was a return to the true foundations of ballet danced to the lovely, romantic waltzes and preludes of Frederic Chopin. Like Chopin, who wove pure magic while staying close to a few key chords in each piece, the Kirov understands the potential of the basics.
Principal dancers also demonstrated this art in their solos. What Anton Korsakov, as the ‘Young Man,’ lacked in power he made up for in control.
The second piece expelled any notions that Kirov only dances with delicacy and decorum. ‘Scheherazade,’ less a dance than a dance drama, was an explosion of color, texture and sensuality.
In this story, the harem of King Shahryar of India and China chooses to play when the king is on a hunting trip. Zobeide, the favorite wife chooses a handsome slave to keep her company, as do the rest of the wives. Cavorting with male slaves leads to an orgy of food, music and lovers until the king returns unannounced. Furious, he kills everyone in sight, sparing Zobeide’s life. To escape the shame, Zobeide takes her own life.
The pas de deux of Zobeide and her slave has to be one of the sultriest ever performed in a ballet. The dancers used steps from tango, belly dance, modern dance, interpretive dance as well as foraying alarmingly close to a striptease.
The entire stage was resplendent tapestries, lanterns and all the colorful trappings of the decadent Oriental life. Nadezhda Vasilyeva’s costumes perfectly accentuated the suggestive dances of the wives. The male corps brilliantly conveyed the hothouse atmosphere of the harem, twirling faster and faster as they thumped the stage to create a rhythmic, intoxicating beat.
The Kirov Orchestra, so elegantly restrained during ‘Chopiniana,’ took the opportunity to let loose with Rimsky-Korsakov’s whirling-dervish score. But the standout musical performance of the night came at the beginning and end of ‘Scheherezade.’ Concertmaster Yuri Zagorodnyuk delivered solos of improbable beauty, turning his violin into a piccolo as he reached for aching, stratospheric notes reminiscent of a Massenet composition that heralded the tragedy to come.
The final performance was ‘The Firebird,’ a ballet by Igor Stravinsky whose flashy costumes were arguably more memorable than the dancing. Between the Firebird, the hunter who releases her in exchange for a promise of help when he is in danger, forest monsters and Katschei the evil king, the stage was a fairy tale come to life. Tatiana Amosova’s Firebird was surprisingly restrained for a title role that is supposed to be powerful and mysterious.
Yasa Serebriakova was the beautiful princess that the hunter wants to rescue from Kastchei. Her acting was believable in a scene featuring the corps pushing the lovers together, then pulling them apart when they got too close. Her dancing was lyrical and the most musically aware of the characters as she twirled across the stage.
Different, yet thrilling was the dance of the forest creatures