Last weekend the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia closed their 3-week season at New York City Center. During the 3 weeks they performed Petipa’s The Kingdom of Shadows from La Bayadere; Fokine’s Scheherazade and Chopiniana; Gorsky’s The Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, as well as all-Balanchine and all-Forsythe programs. The all-Balanchine program I saw Saturday night included Serenade, Rubies, and Ballet Imperial. These three ballets are Balanchine at his most classical- with the exception of sparkly set and costumes of Rubies, the ballets are simplistic and gorgeously choreographed, relying solely on the dancers’ technical prowess to make the ballet look like the exquisite masterpiece that it is.
Kirov dancers are undeniably technical geniuses. Their footwork, extensions, syncopation, port de bras and even their bows are flawlessly executed. Every leg is beautifully turned out, every wrist held at the perfect angle. But what Kirov dancers have in technique, they lacked in joy, in beauty. Serenade is ripe with gushingly beautiful phrases; it is one of those ballets which the viewer can revel in the pure and breathtakingly beautiful aesthetic pleasure of the dance. But the Kirov dancers possessed none of this exuberance in their dancing, rather, they looked petrified. Dance critic Alastair Macaulay wrote in the New York Times article, “Has nobody reminded these dancers that these grand ballet rituals are about love, courtesy and the thrill of ceremony? With zero sense of courtship, whole chunks of the Kirov repertory turned to stone.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. Ballets like Serenade and Ballet Imperial are so technically demanding that without any sense of joy from the dancers, the ballet becomes academic, like an exercise. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the pieces- Serenade is inherently a gorgeous ballet and watching dancers of such technical finesse is always beguiling and wonderful. Olesia Novikova, who danced the leads in Serenade and Ballet Imperial, was the one true breath of fresh air. Her smiles looked natural, her movements were full of both gusto and ease. The ballets retained their poignancy and elegance. If nothing else, it was an exciting evening to whet our appetites for more great ballet with the opening of the New York City Ballet season, coming soon.
Serenade photographs (and my ticket) courtesy of Yaniv Schulman