Confounding Audience Expectations: Kremlin Ballet (3)

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Chopin, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Seasons of the 21st Century – Programme 3: The Kremlin Ballet, London Coliseum, London, 20.7.2013. (JO’D)

Dancers: Chopiniana
Young Man: Xander Parish
Seventh Waltz/Prelude: Natalya Balakhnicheva
Mazurka: Irina Ablitsova
Eleventh Waltz: Alia Khasenova
Two Sylphides: Yuliya Voronina, Christina Burtseva
Kremlin Ballet Artists
Polovtsian Dances
Polovtsian Warrior: Mikhail Martynyuk
Polovtsian Maiden: Yuliya Voronina
Kremlin Ballet Soloists and Artists
Zobeida: Yuliya Makhalina
Golden Slave: Xander Parish
Shahriar: Igor Pivovovich
Shah Zenan: Mikhail Yevgenov
Chief Eunuch: Roman Volodchenkov
Three Odalisques: Yuliya Voronina, Valeriya Pobedinsky, Alia Khasenova
Kremlin Ballet Soloists and Artists

Choreography: Michel Fokine
Original sets and costumes: Alexandre Benois (recreated by Anna Nezhnaya)
Director and producer: Andris Liepa
Polovtsian Dances
Choreography: Michel Fokine
Original sets and costumes: Nicholas Roerich
Costumes: Anna Nezhnaya
Director and producer: Andris Liepa
Choreography: Michel Fokine (staged and directed by Andris Liepa)
Original sets and costumes: Léon Bakst (recreated by Anna Nezhnaya and Anatoly Nezhny)


The drop-curtain itself promised jewel-like colour and Arabian Nights exoticism and that is what, with Polovtsian Dances and Shéhérezade, Russian Seasons of the XXI Century brought to the Coliseum by the bucketful in Programme 3 of their London schedule. Both ballets are recreations of those presented by Diaghilev in Paris in 1909 and 1910, when the harem pants and slippers of the female dancers meant a new freedom from the restrictions of corsets and pointe shoes (and when male dancers were almost a new thing altogether). The originals were lost to audiences in post-Revolutionary Russia until after 1993. To see them performed, as they were last night, by dancers from the Kremlin Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Mariinsky Theatre may have been to feel some of the energy they gave off to the people who saw them first (though live, instead of recorded, music would have enhanced this even further). There were certainly moments in both ballets when the stage was a mass of soft swirling fabric, and when it was hard to tell if the arms and legs this fabric covered were those of a thigh and boot slapping warrior or sultry odalisque. Xander Parish, the principal male dancer of Shéhérezade is, in fact, not Russian but British. Mikhail Martynyuk (the chief warrior in Polovtsian Dances) might have made a more sensuous Golden Slave, but Parish’s rangy figure marked him out from the other men, as did his command of the pirouette and the tour en l’air. He also knew how to be attentive to his partner, Yuliya Makhalina (Zobeide), whose expressive eyes and gestures captured the audience’s attention and explained her ability to make Shahriar forgive her for being unfaithful. There have been versions of this ballet in which Zobeide heartlessly steps over the dead body of the slaughtered slave at the end. Here, after being forgiven, she steals Shahriar’s dagger and kills herself with it.

As if to confound audience expectations of the exotic, when the drop-curtain first went up it was to reveal not a harem but an almost monochrome, moonlit forest. Ballet Russes choreographer Michel Fokine was not only interested in Orientalism and the possibilities for renewal it offered. His 1909 Chopiniana (originally called ‘Les Sylphides’) paid homage to the second or ‘white’ acts of earlier Romantic ballets such as ‘Giselle’ and ‘La Bayadère’. Wearing tutus (with wings) and pointe shoes, twenty-three sylphs moved soundlessly and faultlessly to the music of Chopin in what became a limpid disquisition on the gravity-defying nature of pointework itself. Outstanding among them was Yuliya Voronina, who seemed happier in the upper air than on the ground and always striving, with her arms, to return to her preferred medium. Even when it came to taking a bow, she and the two other leading sylphs took them in character, their arms moving gracefully but restlessly all the while. The coolness and precision of Xander Parish’s dancing made him well suited to the role of the Young Man who accompanied them, the only man on the stage. Chopiniana did not have the dazzling colour and animation of the other two ballets in the programme, but it may have appeared all the more contemporary, and perhaps all the more relevant, for that very reason.

John O’Dwyer