Mini-review – Laurencia – Mikhailovsky Ballet at London Coliseum

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After seeing last night’s London debut of the 1939 ballet Laurencia, I can’t in good conscience recommend it. I can accept that with my devotion to flamenco, this ballet’s pseudo-Spanish dance scenes were doomed to displease me (in fact, the castanet playing was so flaccid it made me giggle); but the choreography (Vakhtang Chabukiani as revived by Mikhail Messerer) was so broadly uninspiring and the mime so heavy-handed – and the overall feeling so very Snidely Whiplash – that I found it too low quality to be worth a watch, much less a revival.

The best dancing, to me, was the groomsmen’s duet (possibly Andrei Yakhnuyk and Nikolay Korypaev) in the wedding dance; their unison was good, their leaps strong, the energy high. Laurencia (Irina Perren), however, seemed painfully two dimensional; too cutesy early on, too obvious with her pointing fingers and waving fists in act two, and just generally not exciting dancing. Her friend Pascuala (Sabina Yaparova) actually had better choreography, and we switched to watching her dance during the wedding scene as, well, it was more interesting. I think she was a better dancer than Perren, but perhaps she was just focused more on dancing than acting. Male Lead Denis Matvienko showed unchallenged talent during his time onstage; he seemed to be capable of so much but the unimaginative choreography didn’t push him. His two wedding solos were just … flat. I’ll keep him in mind for another show. It was sad, really, to see so much talent so poorly used. At least it was short and I was able to get home in time to do some dishes. Overall, it also left me with a bit of a bad feeling about the Mikhailovsky – they don’t really seem to be in the “world class” level of companies, rather just in the “merely good” zone. Ah well, it was a nice week anyway.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesdya, July 20th, 2010. The show will be repeated on Wednesday, July 21st. For an alternate review, please see Ismene Brown.)

The plot is as such: in a cute Spanish town in “the distant past” (I’d guess 1600ish as the bad guy was dressed like a cross between Cortez and Caesar), Laurencia flirts with her admirer, Frondoso (Denis Matvienko). The happy villagers dance (as they always do). Eventually the army arrives with baddy Don Fernan “The Commander” Gomez (Mikhail Venshchikov, who looked ready to tie the heroine to the railroad tracks at any minute). He decides he’s going to have not just the proffered glass of wine, but Laurencia. She and Frondoso escape to the woods (scene 2). The other town girls appear and wash their laundry. They all leave, then a girl (Jacincta, Oksana Bondareva) appears chased by Fernan’s guards; he appears and allows them to ravage her (offstage thankfully). The villagers return and are suitably shocked by Bondareva’s dance of dismay. (Total time for these scenes: 45 minutes.)

Act 2 starts in the village, where Laurencia and Frondoso are celebrating their marriage. (This is the best scene in the ballet, with lots of fun dancing despite the horrid, posey, fake flamenco.) The Commander interrupts the fun, however, and takes both Laurencia and Frondoso away. The villagers follow them to (scene four) Don Fernan’s castle exterior, where, after some time, the newly ravaged bride emerges, crushed and disoriented, but then, in a scene straight from Les Miserables, incites the men to take their knives (and the women, their pitchforks) and rush the castle. Then a brief movie plays on the curtains (while the set is changed) shows the crowd rushing around inside, attacking guards and setting things on fire. It all ends (scene 5) in Don Fernan’s castle’s main hall, where the peasants appear, catch Fernan (after Laurencia refuses his offer of treasure) and kill him. Then they do a dance of triumph which seems to be a bit of a Russian exhortation to hold strong against the forces of oppression – very telling with the German invasion just around the corner. (Total time for this act approximately one hour.) Note that this ballet is based on Lope de Vega’s story “Fuente Ovejuna.”

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2 Responses to “Mini-review – Laurencia – Mikhailovsky Ballet at London Coliseum”

  1. artifactsuite Says:

    I’m glad to read a review which does not praise this ballet the way the London newspapers actually did, which seemed to me so much exaggerated… I wrote mine before reading any newspapers and I couldn’t believe what I read then. Anyway, I saw the second cast which was probably worse than the first one (people said it was night and day, but apart from the cast, this ballet reconstruction is kind of dreadful to me!). That was the first time I saw the company, and I was so, so disappointed! Fortunately their Swan Lake was fine, with good female corps and demi-soloists…

  2. Review – Romeo and Juliet – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Salder’s Wells « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] which I had not seen before*. It was full of over-dramatic movement: arms held high in grief a la Laurencia; women standing in heavily curved positions meant to look like Renaissance painting; the […]

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