- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

The Kirov Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre is fabled for many reasons. It gave treasured 19th-century ballets such as "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" their start. The remarkable choreographer George Balanchine trained in the ballet's school, and the Kirov has produced such stellar dancers as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Alexandra Danilova, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and philanthropist Alberto Vilar are responsible for the ballet's 10-year commitment to Washington and the appearance of the Kirov/Mariinsky Opera from Feb. 20 to 24. Tickets can be obtained for the opera's concerts, but the ballet's program next Tuesday through Feb. 17 is sold out.
The opera also will be making regular appearances in the future.
Makhar Vaziev, director of the Kirov Ballet, says he is trying to plan programs to make every season in the nation's capital interesting and exciting.
"Each time we appear in Washington should be remarkable," Mr. Vaziev says, "and we are beginning that way with the ballets we are bringing this time: 'Sleeping Beauty' created by Marius Petipa, the great choreographer of the 19th century, and 'Jewels' by George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the 20th century."
The bold programming sends an interesting message.
Petipa's "The Sleeping Beauty" is the crown jewel of the Kirov's legacy, a work made for the company in 1890, and the first collaboration of the two great masters of the period, Petipa and composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.
The late Mr. Balanchine's full-length "Jewels" sparkles as a gem from the man acknowledged as Petipa's heir. As a young ballet student in St. Petersburg, Mr. Balanchine danced children's roles in Petipa ballets. He later came to the West and eventually formed the New York City Ballet.
The effect "The Sleeping Beauty" had on the young Mr. Balanchine illustrates the long shadow cast by the brilliant Petipa-Tchaikovsky collaboration.
The choreography with its enticing solos for the fairies who appear at Princess Aurora's christening; Aurora's radiant opening dance, which came to be known at the "Rose Adagio"; and the serene climax of the wedding pas de deux with Aurora's Prince joined with music of such soaring inspiration, enthralls. The sense of order and magnificence turned young artists and intellectuals of the time into ardent balletomanes.
Alexander Benois and Leon Bakst became important scenic designers, and Serge Diaghilev formed the Ballets Russes. Mr. Balanchine created the 1928 "Apollo," and it became as much a watershed ballet as "Sleeping Beauty" had before it.
"The Sleeping Beauty" had its first important revival in 1921 when Diaghilev presented it in London.
The lavish production became an expensive flop when the public avoided it, but the London dance world adored it, and the seeds were sown where they counted most: "The Sleeping Beauty" played a major role in the development of what is now the Royal Ballet. It was the first ballet the dance company staged after the grim years of World War II, and it was the ballet the troupe chose to open its first New York engagement. With Margot Fonteyn as Aurora, a role she made her own, the Royal Ballet triumphed in "Beauty," achieving international fame virtually overnight.
Every major company and almost every minor company in the world has danced "The Sleeping Beauty." Most productions are based on notes that Nicholas Sergeyev made 13 years after the ballet had been staged and carried with him when he left Russia for the West.
Choreographers such as Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Mr. Nureyev have added variations. Even the New York City Ballet, that bastion of 20th century dance, has mounted its own version by Peter Martins.
Surprisingly, the most noteworthy recent restoration of the ballet originated three years ago at its original home, the Kirov Ballet.
"The Sleeping Beauty" has been in the Kirov's repertoire almost continuously since the piece was created. The version the Kirov danced most recently dated from 1952, and Mr. Vaziev thought for almost a decade that a new production was needed.
When he learned that the 1903 Sergeyev notebooks were at the Harvard Theatre Collection, they became the basis for an elaborate reconstruction effort.
"When we had the notations," Mr. Vaziev says, "we started talking about the importance of remounting the work."
In addition to Sergeyev's notes, they found in their Kirov archives original costume sketches of the first production, even some fabric swatches.
"We understood that it was very important for our country to re-create 'Beauty,'" Mr. Vaziev says. "It was a chance to keep our history with this great classical production. People in Russia were used to our older version and said, 'It's nonsense to do a new one, we already have a wonderful production.' Anyway, we went ahead and did it, and I'm really satisfied."
The Kirov brought a magnificent staging of "The Sleeping Beauty" to New York City in 1999 at the Metropolitan Opera. Costumes, familiar from pictures in dance archives, came to life in rich, glowing colors, and the sumptuous decor re-created a sense of ballet's fabled richness in the days of the czars.
On opening night in Washington, the role of Aurora will be danced by one of the young ballerinas that Mr. Vaziev has brought to the fore during his tenure. He found a crisis in the ballerina ranks when he took over the company eight years ago. Several dancers had left to dance or teach in the West, while others were close to retiring. Now the company has young ballerinas who became principal dancers within a year of joining the company.
One of them is Diana Vishneva, 25, who will dance Aurora next Tuesday. It is a big, demanding role. Miss Vishneva says that she will be nervous but that she always is before a performance.
"When I dance in Russia," she says, "the audience is more discerning because they know more about ballet and they see when we make mistakes." Perhaps she is in for a surprise.
Miss Vishneva travels a lot, both with the Kirov and as a guest with other companies.
"I'm a patriot, and I love my country and I love my city," she says, "but I can't stay in Russia all the time. It's tough when you see how people live there and how they suffer. It affects my dancing and my mood if I don't get out sometimes."
The ballerina will fly back to Russia later in the week to dance her first "Raymonda." The Kirov is still a huge company, with more than 200 dancers. It can field two companies at once, one at home and one touring.
Miss Vishneva will dance another big role, on Thursday evening "Rubies," the middle section of Mr. Balanchine's "Jewels." Set to Igor Stravinsky's "Capriccio" for piano and orchestra, it is wickedly demanding in its rhythms. According to advance reports, she tosses them off with aplomb.
While the Kirov dances "Sleeping Beauty" as its birthright, "Jewels" is another matter. Russian officials found Mr. Balanchine's ballets unmoving during his long and illustrious career. They called them cold and lacking in drama. Now, there is a big push to make up for lost time.
"If you want to check the quality of your company," Mr. Vaziev says, "try to dance 'Jewels,' and you will see what kind of a company you have. Balanchine was a genius, it's that simple, and it's very important that we have him in our company."
Mr. Vaziev says he's been warned that it is foolhardy to bring Mr. Balanchine's work to the country where the choreographer spent most of his creative life and to dance "Jewels" here and next summer in New York, the home of Mr. Balanchine's company.
"I'm not afraid," he says. "We have a huge history, an incredible history, but it doesn't mean we can do everything perfectly. If I see things that will help us, I'm ready to use it. The important thing is to dance these great works."
Mr. Vaziev says this engagement has taken on added significance for him. "I want this appearance to be a good beginning for us, and I hope the beauty of our performances could help the American people forget, for a little while, the tragedy in September."

WHAT: Kirov Ballet
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday through next Saturday, 2 p.m. next Saturday and Feb. 17. Also a gala evening with the Kirov Ballet, Opera and Orchestra at 7 p.m. Feb. 19
TICKETS: Sold out
PHONE: 202/467-4600

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