The two-year ordeal suffered by Valery Panov when he tried to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the early '70s ennobled him as man and artist to all of us. However, the integrity, dignity and stature he revealed in that harrowing experience have been largely absent from his dancing since he came to the West.
Indeed, Panov has too often been merely a crude stunt man--and it is this sensibility that shapes his two-act ballet "The Three Sisters," danced Saturday by Royal Ballet of Flanders in the Haugh Performing Arts Center, Citrus College.
Set to piano pieces by Rachmanihe ballet appropriates the plot and characters from Anton Chekhov's play--a masterwork that subordinates situation to poetic atmosphere and feelings of longing. But Panov wastes little time on mood or emotional nuance; instead he uses the story of a family wasting away in the provinces as a pretext for a string of lurid showpiece solos, duets and ensembles in the circusy Bolshoi style of the '50s.
For example, the program synopsis reads "Masha has an affair with Vershinin" but there is no expressive content in the Masha-Vershinin pas de deux except for a little Slavic pat-a-cake midway through. What occurs is a spectacular concert number: lifts, catches and other gymnastic tricks performed straight at the audience.
But even this level of overkill isn't sufficient for Panov. He adds spoken captions to spell out the obvious. When Solyony, for instance, sees Irina arm in arm with Tusenbach, he explodes in a flurry of angry air turns and jabbing leaps-in-place--and then exclaims, "I swear I'll kill him! I'll kill him!" Panov is relentless.
Uncredited in the Citrus College house program but presumably by Andrei Ivaneanu, the set--a birch stockade with three trees growing in the center of the yard--nicely objectifies the sisters' sense of imprisonment. The staging, too, is simple and resourceful. There is no corps de ballet and no orchestra, merely 13 dancers and two actors accompanied by Robert Groslot, an accomplished pianist who becomes a minor character in the household.
A sophisticated choreographer could work wonders with such an artful production plan--but Panov sacrificed nearly everything genuinely Chekhovian to showcase the virtuosity of the Royal Ballet of Flanders--a company he took over in August. The dancers responded to the challenge with extraordinary skill and intensity. Obviously, this could be a major international company--once it finds something worth dancing.
At 36, Galina Panova is no longer ideally cast as the girlish Irina, but she danced Saturday with steely power and faultless control, partnered suavely by Ben van Cauwenberg as Tusenbach. Vivien Loeber and Tom van Cauwenberg (Ben's brother) executed that high-wire duet for Masha and Vershinin masterfully, and Mehmet Balkan brought awesome drive and control to Solyony's demanding solo. Marina Nicolaou made an affecting Olga. Best of all, perhaps: the secure, deeply sensitive Koen Onzia as the pitiful Andrei.