- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

The Kirov Ballet from St. Petersburg is dancing two classical ballets here this week that offer dramatically different views of the company and its repertoire. The Kirov's greater triumph comes in meeting the challenges of George Balanchine's neoclassic "Jewels" rather than in its bred-in-the-bone performance of "Sleeping Beauty," a work created for the company 111 years ago.

In "Jewels," the Kirov's remarkable corps de ballet comes to the fore. It is the embodiment of the famed Kirov style limpid, elegantly poised, gracious and expansive. The dancers are meltingly soft in the "Emeralds" section of the ballet, prove scintillating in "Rubies" and show their affinity for the Russian flavor of "Diamonds" and its lush Tchaikovsky music.

Capping the memorable performance of "Diamonds" Wednesday night was the extraordinary Svetlana Zakharova. She danced with clarity, purity and beauty, and her performance became a moral force in its perfection. In the prolonged adagio section, her movements created a cantilena as she matched the rich flow and singing line of the late Mr. Balanchine's choreography with handsomely molded arabesques and her own qualities of serenity and harmony. It was a moment to treasure.

The "Diamonds" pas de deux depends on a gallant and unobtrusive partner Mr. Balanchine likened the role to that of a prince consort. Miss Zakharova's partner, Danila Korsuntsev, provided that and fleet dancing in his solo variation.

The other soloists in "Jewels" are lovely dancers but have yet to capture the depth of their roles. A quality of playfulness with phrasing, whether lushly romantic and mysterious in "Emeralds" or sharply syncopated and propulsive in "Rubies," eludes them.

Zhanna Ayupova, Veronika Part, Viktor Baranov and Denis Firsov were the two ambiguous couples in "Emeralds," with Yana Selina, Ksenia Ostreikovskaya and Anton Korsakov making up a sprightly trio on Wednesday. That same evening, Irina Golub and Andrian Fadeyev were the acrobatically engaged couple in "Rubies," while Maya Dumchenko gave an interesting account of the bold soloist role.

The company is dancing an early version of "Emeralds." Later, in his infinite wisdom, Mr. Balanchine added a haunting, elegiac finale to the ballet. It is a moving conclusion that adds gravitas to the whole.

The Kirov's engagement on opening night focused on "Sleeping Beauty," which also will be performed this weekend. The company's recent reconstruction of "Sleeping Beauty" seems an appropriate choice, if not an exciting one, to begin its 10 years of performances at the Kennedy Center. The current production is based on extensive research on the original 1890 production, notations of the ballet made 13 years later and correspondence between the choreographer, Marius Petipa, and composer, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

Projecting back in time and to the beautiful pale-blue and gold Mariinsky Theatre where "Sleeping Beauty" was first performed should help audience members enjoy the ballet. Then, this elaborate production, with its painstakingly researched costumes, reconstructed dance formations and periods of static pageantry, would take on a certain quaint, autumnal appeal. The slow pacing, the stage overflowing with massed dancers moving in rigid patterns and the handsomely designed costumes a genuine success of this "Beauty" would assume a ritualistic rightness.

But while authenticity is sought carefully in some areas of the ballet, it receives short shrift in others.

For instance, the women shown in 1890 pictures of the ballet had a cushioned plumpness. Today's ballerinas are wraithlike thin.

Hair arrangements and headgear receive cavalier treatment. Some of the dancers wear wigs that resemble hairstyles of the period, while others wear their own hair in more contemporary styles.

The hero, Prince Desire, makes his first appearance in this production with a mass of golden curls that spill down his back. In the last act, he suddenly turns up with short chestnut hair.

Most striking of all is the company's penchant for sky-high leg extensions, a technical element that started to appear on the scene only a few decades ago. Such extensions seem out of place amid the decorum of "Sleeping Beauty." They created the only jarring note in the otherwise singular perfection of Miss Zakharova's "Diamonds" role. A controlled raised leg that leaves a little air around the face, instead of being pressed tightly against the head, is more aesthetically pleasing even in today's modern choreography.

Although this 3½-hour "Beauty" contains long stretches of non-dance, the dancing carries the day.

Diana Vishneva brings to the role of Princess Aurora the kind of rounded, harmonious grace that represents the Kirov at its best. She is an authoritative dancer with a heart-shaped face, elegant feet and a perfect dancer's body.

When the famous "Rose Adagio" is danced and we have our first glimpse of the young Aurora, one of its key elements is the sustained balances of the ballerina. Miss Vishneva does not dwell on hers, however. She raises her supported hand only a few inches from her partner's. Perhaps she was having an off night Wednesday, or perhaps that is the way the Russians prefer it.

The rest of her performance was gravely radiant in this most demanding of roles. As her Prince, Igor Kolb proved pleasantly adequate.

The celebrated fairy variations that dominate the prologue were executed with brio. Miss Part gave the Lilac Fairy a plush, warmly authoritative performance. Aurora may be the star of the show, but the Lilac Fairy is at its heart because her goodness thwarts the evil Carabosse.

As Carabosse, Igor Petrov proved a potent adversary.

Among the other impressive performances were those of Miss Golub, Ekaterina Osmolkina, Viktoria Tereshkina and Tatyana Tkachenko in the jewel variations of the third act, and Natalya Sologub and Vasily Scherbakov in the Blue Bird Variation.

The Kirov Ballet, with Valery Gergiev as overall artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre and Makharbek Vaziev as the company's director, has made enormous artistic strides since it was last here almost 10 years ago. A sleeping beauty no more, it seems poised to make an increasingly large contribution to world art and, most happily, to our own art scene. That's an exciting prospect.


WHAT: Kirov Ballet

WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

TICKETS: Sold out

PHONE: 202/467-4600


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