Review – Triple Bill (Halte de Cavaliere, In a Minor Key, Divertissements) – Mikhailovsky Ballet at London Coliseum 2010

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Today’s performance of the Mikhailovsky ballet was a real treat: a chance to see a one-act ballet by Petipa that I’d never seen before and the debut of a newly-created ballet receiving its London premiere, plus a rich selection of divertissements from other ballets, many of which I’d never seen or even heard of before.

The first third was “Le Halt de Cavalerie,” a one act comic ballet based on a work by Petipa (anyone know the original date?), reconstructed in 1968 with music by Ivan Armsheimer. It’s a cute little story about an army coming to a man-starved Bavarian town (or so it seemed to me, it all looked very Sound of Music) and the various soldiers immediately making their way through the local female populace. Pre-soldiers, we have a group of charming peasants dressed mostly in white (girl:boy ratio about 2:1), capering about; the big action is the one fellow, Peter (Anton Ploom, my favorite from Swan Lake on Tuesday), who has two girls after him: Maria (Anastasia Lomanchenkova) and Teresa (Olga Semyonova). Sadly, I can’t tell which was which, so I’ll refer to them as Blue and Red based on their costumes. Maria and Teresa each give Peter a hanky based on their key colors, leading him to do a very-non-Othello like hanky dance as well as a ribbon dance that reminded me of “La Fille Mal Gardee” (but was not nearly as elaborate). Eventually he tucked the hankies in his pocket in a way which seemed utterly innocent of any possible secondary meaning to the act of “red hanky, front pocket,” then watched the girls get into a catfight. As they were both blonde, I found the red/blue confusion only getting worse.

However, suddenly the toy soldiers – er, local cavalry marched into town, and suddenly every girl had a sweetheart – except for Blue and Red, whose boyfriend was arrested for, er, offending the comic, red-coated colonel (Andrei Bregvadze in a highly comic role – he couldn’t even draw his sword right!). For some reason, each of the officers winds up trying to woo Red; first the guy in blue (I think the “cornet,” Maksim Podosyonov), who partners her nicely but is chased off (seemingly for dereliction of duty) by Green (the Captain, Vladimir Tsal), who did great kicks in the air but then (character-wise) makes an utter ass o;f himself by trying to force his attentions on a protesting Red. Then the Colonel shows up again. He reminded me quite a bit of Signor Tomato from yesterday afternoon, as he was a clown, but he went even further with his movement; during his dance with Red he was shakey and wobbly, couldn’t spin, could barely hold her hand, and acted completely incompetent. I was reminded a bit of the episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine shows why she should not dance; the Colonel was just terrible.

This led to a scene quite unique for me, as the soldiers and village girls return to the square: Red evens the score by mocking the way each of the officers has danced with her, putting them all in her place. However, for some reason the Colonel decides that Peter is now to be united with Blue, which gives him a chance to do a very grand solo (though in his second variation he wasn’t as clean with his jumps). Then Red comes back for a dance with the three officers, which is terribly comic; Peter finishes up with a dance with Blue, whom he lifts up as they trace a large circle around the stage, and gives a little extra toss in the air at the top of every lift – very athletic! Then the army is all called away, with the Colonel leaving last of all – emerging half-dressed from hut, followed by Red. It was very racy for a ballet! He kept the joke going through the curtain calls, showing up with his shirt open, pulling a leaf from his trousers, and continuing to flirt with Red. Really, the whole thing was a big pile of fun, with some nice solos and good group scenes (that reminded me of the tradition Balanchine came from rather strongly, especially in the grand finale “everyone get on stage including the girls in the purple boots that showed up out of nowhere”). I really hope i get to see this ballet again some time, it was just a perfect little treat at all of 36 minutes and action packed from start to finish.

Next up was the London premiere of Slava Samodurov’s “In a Minor Key,” set to Scarlatti piano sonatas. It’s done with the pianist (Alexander Pirozhenko) on stage and the space mostly swept bare, with metal frameworks hanging over the stage at the beginning. There are six dancers, all of whom get duets, but as each dancer is dressed identically to the other dancers of the same gender, I could not tell them apart and thus will not credit them. Worse, I just have so little to say. There was some kicking and fists waved around; the ballerinas had cute red corsets on and the men wore very strange knitted caps. A dancer walked across a man’s body; I seem to recall a solo. I had to force myself to write, and my companion wound up napping a bit (“the warm air and the pretty music was just so relaxing”). Ah well, thanks for at least making the effort to show us some new dance, Mikhailovsky people, I am very grateful you made the investment but some times these things just don’t work out.

The evening ended with a sort of mini-gala, featuring “divertissements” from a horde of ballets: Ivan Susanin (an opera, actually), Spartacus, The Fairy Doll, Sleeping Beauty, and Spring Waters. Ivan Susanin was totally money, with some dozen fully costumed dancers on-stage to rage through a Polonaise and a Cracovienne. I don’t know anything about this music or about Polish culture but the dances were very lively, with lots of little kicks and heel clicks, and watching the women bowing and swirling with their feathered hats and ostrich fans was gorgeous. I was reminded of the thistle dance from the Disney version of the Nutcracker Suites (sorry I can’t remember what its proper name is).

This was followed by the Spartacus pas de deux, which I think is Spartacus and a courtesan. Our dancers were Vera Arbuzova and Marat Shemiunov. This piece was chock-full of thick acting and very acrobatic dancing. The acting was 1) woman: be seductive and 2) man: act impressed. Shemiunov laid it on heavily and I rolled my eyes. I had some fear for the performance I’m going to in two weeks. On the other hand, there was amazing balancing going on, with Shemiunov at one point holding Arbuzova over his head with one hand while she supported herself with one of hers and her legs arced into the air: the movement was very impressive (and gave me home for the Bolshoi). On the other hand, Shemiunov had problems on at least two occasions: I saw him slide her down his body in a way that I thought would end with her dangling, wrapped around his hips, but she made it all the way to the floor without a pause: and, more critically, at a time when he was suppose to move her away from him, he wound up slipping and letting her go so she landed on her back with a thwack. Thankfully they soldiered through to the end and even manage to accomplish some pretty serious contortions in the meantime, but I was on the edge of my seat for the rest of the time and for all of the wrong reasons. They both ought to practice a bit more and Shemiunov might want to lift some weights or maybe dip his hands in rosin – if Arbuzova doesn’t beat him within an inch of his life after this performance was over.

Next was a complete novelty, the pas de trois from “The Fairy Doll” (no notes in the program to enlighten me with Sabina Yapparova as the doll and Maksim Yeremeyev and Nikkolay Arzyaev as her two Pucinella-like suitors. They fought with each other to dance with her, stole her away when she was about to stat partnering with the other, and generally acted both utterly enamored of her and completely jealous of the other. The movement for this was charming and comic; I loved it when the doll kissed her finger then placed it on each boy doll’s cheek, sending them into raptures. The boy dolls had a great “I’m better than you” duet with each other, and the whole thing ends with her tricking them into kissing each other. It was frothy and adorable.

The best dancing of the evening was, in my mind, saved for the rather perfect pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty,” which I think is the post-wedding dance with the prince (Andrei Yakhnuyk) and Beauty (Maria Kochetkova). Kotchetkova had the same assurance and presence as did Irina Koshelova in the previous afternoon’s “Cipollino;” she looked every inch the ballerina, with tightly controlled leaps, delicate pirouettes, and a sort of glow about her while on stage. A call-out for Yakhnuyk, however, as his first solo, with the change-of-direction-in-mid-air kicks and jumping-in-the-air-and-clicking-his-heels-together moves were exhilirating and the best male dancing of the evening. (Sorry I can’t call these out by their proper ballet names, but I’m just really not there.) He also provided a good partner for Beauty, showing her off to her best and knowing just when to let go so she could show off her fine sense of balance.

Then it was the finale, a very, very quick turn through “Spring Water,” which had Shemiunov back with Irina Perrin, both in horrible blue faux-Grecian garb. Shemiunov had to carry Perrin rather a lot, and somehow I got the feeling the whole thing had been cut short after the Spartacus cock up. Perrin, still, showed no fear, as she dashed across stage and launched herself feet first in front of Shemiunov – who still managed to catch her. This was also full of gymnastic type moves and lots of balancing of the girl, but, given that it was heading on toward 5:30, I was glad that it was, actually, both short and the end of the evening. Overall, this was a performance that was well worth seeing and won’t be repeated, sort of the Mikhailovsky’s little gift to London fans with its unusual choices from the rep as well as a premiere. Balletomanes, if you didn’t catch this performance, you missed out!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, July 18th, 2010. It will not be repeated.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Triple Bill (Halte de Cavaliere, In a Minor Key, Divertissements) – Mikhailovsky Ballet at London Coliseum 2010”

  1. NotTheWestEndWhingers Says:

    “Thistle Dance”? Its the Russian Dance from “The Nutcracker”. And you a balletomane, WCG! Tsk!

    • webcowgirl Says:

      You know, I was wondering if it were a Russian dance, or a Cossack dance, or just what the exact name for that style of dancing was. This was inexcusable as I’ve seen the Nutcracker more than any other ballet but they do come up with different names for the different suites depending on who’s choreographing it.

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