- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

The Kirov Ballet arrives at the Kennedy Center next week with programs that are a vivid illustration of the two paths the company is following. It celebrate its centuries-old history — arguably the richest of any ballet company in the world — and plunges fearlessly into the world of modern ballet, tackling works by choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and William Forsythe who were anathema to Soviet-era politicos.

The week concludes with the oldest ballet in the company’s repertoire, “Giselle,” while earlier performances are devoted to the work of Mr. Forsythe.

The American-born choreographer has spent most of his career in Europe, where he is revered, but he is less well-known in this country. Mr. Forsythe’s own company appeared at the Kennedy Center two years ago, and the San Francisco Ballet and the Washington Ballet have presented his work “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” If memory serves, that’s the extent of his work seen here.

Makhar Vaziev, the Kirov’s director, was astounded to discover this during a phone conversation from St. Petersburg on the eve of the company’s departure o Washington.

“Really?” he said. “I think he’s one of the genius choreographers in the world. If you look at his ‘Steptext,’ which we’re doing in Washington, it looks like architecture; it’s a totally different language, an unbelievable language.

“Of course, in the beginning, when we first began learning it, it was quite complicated for us,” Mr. Vaziev says, “but when we had resolved its difficulties, it was amazing.”

Just as his company brought Mr. Balanchine’s “Jewels” here a few years ago and danced that unfamiliar style with distinction, it has the confidence to take on these new challenges.

The company operates under the day-to-day direction of Mr. Vaziev (his title is director of the ballet company), who consults with Valery Gergiev, head of the entire Mariinsky Theatre enterprise — opera, ballet, and orchestra.

The centuries-old company retains strengths that endure as it throws off the shackles of communist censorship, catches up on much of the 20th century and bounds into the 21st.

The Kirov, formerly known as the Mariinsky, is the birthplace of all the glorious Marius Petipa ballets — “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and many more — and has produced such legendary dancers as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and the choreographers Michael Fokine and George Balanchine.

Though Mr. Balanchine left Russia and spent his entire career abroad, most of it in America, Mr. Vaziev says he believes their common heritage has paved the way for the company to understand and embrace his dances.

“Balanchine was genius,” Mr. Vaziev says, “but don’t forget, he was from this city, too. Of course he changed a lot. Later in the United States, he gave us more dynamics — it’s wonderful. In ballet, you can say the French school is different; the Danish school also is different; and Balanchine and the Russian school [are] more similar.”

Besides acquiring 20th-century classics new to the company, Mr. Vaziev is looking to commission original works. “We are having preliminary talks with Forsythe to create a special work for us,” he says. “We’ve had discussions with Wayne McGregor from England, the Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and others.”

At the same time, he notes that the Mariinsky Theatre is the “house of Petipa, and this will remain the basic of our theater. We want to do more historic reconstructions of Petipa ballets like we did with ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ so we have big ideas, big plans.”

The basis of the training for which the Kirov is so justly famous is the Vaganova School, which Mr. Vaziev depends upon for the company’s new talent. “It’s a wonderful school, with a wonderful history,” he says, adding that when the dancers come to the Mariinsky Theatre, they should not expect their learning curve to stop. “It’s too boring if you only do what you can do. It’s more interesting to work hard and try to learn the new.”

Mr. Vaziev soon switches back to the old, however, focusing on one of the most hallowed of all 19th-century ballets, “Gis- elle,” and how integral it is to the Kirov’s illustrious past.

“‘Giselle’ was created in Paris in 1841, but by 1842, it was in our repertoire. It’s in our history, too, and that’s why we’re bringing this beautiful production to the United States.”

WHAT: Kirov Ballet performing “Giselle” and works by William Forsythe

WHEN: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $47 to $112

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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