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Expo 86 : The Kirov Goes Modern, After Its Own Fashion

May 20, 1986|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dane Critic

VANCOUVER, Canada — Oleg Vinogradov, the artistic director and chief choreographer of the Kirov Ballet, is proud of his commitment to the 20th Century.

His house, he says at the drop of a toe shoe, is not just a great museum. It also is a living theater.

At home in Leningrad, he has introduced ballets by Maurice Bejart, Roland Petit and Pierre Lacotte. He also has encouraged Soviet choreographers to do experimental things for him. One of them actually came up with a quasi-sexy pas de deux to music borrowed from the rock group Pink Floyd.

Vinogradov didn't bring anything so radical, however, to Expo '86. He brought "Swan Lake" and his own spectacular narrative ballet, "The Knight in the Tiger Skin."

It is worth noting, by the way, that "The Knight" will not be seen in the States. It is reserved for Canadian export only.

That may be a mixed blessing. At its much-applauded local premiere Sunday night, the ballet revealed a side of the Kirov that few people have seen outside Russia, a side indicating that the stylistic ties between the presumably refined Kirov and the overtly flamboyant Bolshoi of Moscow may be tighter than we thought.

Anyone who has endured the grandiose kitsch indulgences of the Bolshoi "Spartacus" will be right at home with "The Knight."

Vinogradov's year-old saga of heroism, paganism, sacrifice, magic, polite erotica, athletic display and brotherly love in an exotic 12th-Century Georgian never-never land may not be quite as vulgar as the Grigorovich "Spartacus." Still, it is cut from the same gaudy, generous, old-fashioned cloth.

It also happens to bear a convoluted libretto by Yuri Grigorovich, based on a poem by Shota Rustaveli. Grigorovich is the Kirov alumnus who now runs the Bolshoi and who created the Moscow "Spartacus."

To Western eyes, the most striking aspect of "The Knight in the Tiger Skin" must be the scenery of Teimuraz Murvanidze--a delirious network of moody, ever-changing, semi-abstract scrims and curtains. Before these decors, the massive Kirov ensemble twists and cavorts, leaps and spins, slinks and sways, crouches and poses--sometimes in interestingly novel configurations and often in the most ancient of balletic manners.

Alexei Machavariani's well-crafted, super-eclectic score quotes primitive chugging motives from Stravinsky's "Sacre," explores the affecting rhetoric of neo-Straussian false-note romanticism, luxuriates in varied percussive rituals and, when all else fails, succumbs to movie-music schmaltz.

Replacing the originally scheduled Vakhtang Machavariani in the pit, the veteran Victor Fedotov conducted with breadth, clarity and passion--qualities that were nicely reflected in the playing of the Vancouver Symphony.

The dancing was virtuosic, forceful, polished, even when the choreography looked silly.

Konstantin Zaklinsky, obviously the resident matinee idol, gobbled up the stage as the noble knight Tariel. He seemed more comfortable in this flashy caractere challenge than in the bravura-prince repertory, and he looked fine in his two beefcake costumes: tiger skin and bejeweled jock strap.

Evgeny Neff offered a decent, less muscular mirror image as the other good knight, Avtandil.

The ballerina duties were shared by the petite Tatiana Ariskina (as Princess Nestan-Daredjan) and the powerful Olga Likhovskaya (Queen Tinatin), both of whom enjoyed the advantages of extraordinarily fleet and flexible bodies, expressive restraint and tight, stretchy, spangled unitards.

Sergei Vikharev oozed splendid creepy-crawly evil as the scarlet-clad Sorcerer-Prince who, alas, is dispatched by the hero early in the evening.

Larissa Daidikova, a mezzo-soprano from the Kirov Opera, sang the words of the captured heroine's despairing letter to her lover with opulent tone via an offstage microphone.

"The Knight in the Tiger Skin" may not approach high art. It tends to be blunt, quaint, naive, sugarcoated and easy just when it most wants to deliver complex aesthetic, moral and ethical messages. Nevertheless, it courts a mass audience with unerring urgency.

The Kirov company performs the inherent cliches with obvious enthusiasm and staggering conviction.

That makes a difference.

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