The Kirov and La Scala ballet companies briefly visited California this year, each performing "Swan Lake" and a program of one-act pieces. This repertory provided a very limited exposure to two of the oldest and most influential institutions in Western dance.
Now the Kirov and La Scala return on videocassette, dancing ballets unseen on the 1986 tours. Recorded in the early '80s, these videotapes both broaden our knowledge of some of the artists who danced on the West Coast and illuminate the cultural traditions shaping their interpretations.
The 95-minute Kirov "Classic Ballet Night" on V.I.E.W. ($59.95) comes in a box illustrated with a scene from "The Stone Flower," though nothing resembling that modern Soviet ballet is danced. The skimpy, gushy liner notes offer no hint of when the performance was recorded, and even the tape itself supplies but one clue: a 1982 copyright in the final credits.
Reportedly, however, the performance took place the previous year and was televised live, via satellite, in England with a slightly different assortment of ballets.
The concept is one superbly suited to the Kirov's enlightened conservatism and Imperial heritage: a gallery of 19th-Century choreographies. Most of them are authentic (four originals, two reconstructions), all of them are danceworthy and, when juxtaposed, they demonstrate strong stylistic links between the great centers of Romantic and Classical ballet in Europe.
Here is a scintillating pas de six from "La Vivandiere" (1843), the first ballet by the Parisian choreographer Arthur Saint-Leon, best known for "Coppelia."
Here, too, is the familiar pas de deux (with less familiar ensemble passages) from "Flower Festival in Genzano" (1858) by the great Danish choreographer August Bournonville--and two rarities by the architect of Russian classicism, Marius Petipa: a sequence from "La Esmeralda" (1886) and "The Venice Carnival" (usually dated 1881 but more likely much earlier).
Taped on stage in Leningrad before an enthusiastic audience, the program contains some of the stiffest, most unidiomatic Bournonville dancing imaginable, but it more than compensates by showing what several major, aging dancers from the recent American tour danced like at the height of their powers.
Certainly Sergei Berezhnoi, who looked conspicuously overtaxed by the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene from "La Bayadere" in Shrine Auditorium, is in his prime here, snapping off bold, effortless jumps and multiple turns in Agrippina Vaganova's 1935 "Diana and Actaeon" pas de deux. Opposite him, Tatiana Terekhova (seen fleetingly in the Los Angeles "Paquita" casts) contributes brilliant springs onto pointe plus spectacular turns into extension.
The program also confirms the exceptional artistry of two stars from the previous (1964) Kirov visit to the United States: Irina Kolpakova (taped in Anton Dolin's neo-Romantic 1941 "Le Pas de Quatre") and Alla Sizova (in "La Vivandiere"). But the big revelation is Gabriella Komleva, the only leading dancer to appear twice.
As both a Romantic icon in "Le Pas de Quatre" and an embodiment of classical purity in the "La Esmeralda" excerpt, Komleva dances so soulfully that the showiest steps suddenly acquire hidden emotional implications. The heartbroken bravura of the Petipa coda is especially amazing: a cadenza of suffering executed with dazzling control, taste and sensitivity.
Kirov influences inevitably shape the 129-minute La Scala "Romeo and Juliet" on Kultur ($79.95). Not only did the Leningrad company commission the familiar Prokofiev score (heavily cut and resequenced in this version), but the choreographer and lead danseur in the Milan production is Rudolf Nureyev.
Taped at the Palazzo dello Sport (not the Teatro alla Scala, as the liner notes say) in 1982, this performance finds the 44-year-old ex-Kirov firebrand dancing with far greater freedom than he mustered in Los Angeles appearances with the Boston Ballet that same year. Admittedly, his rigidity of torso makes his line problematic, but his execution of steps is often masterful and he even gets into the air occasionally.
But Nureyev's choreography is so incoherent and his adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy so bizarre, that this "Romeo and Juliet" emerges as much a grandiose disaster as the Franco Zeffirelli "Swan Lake" that the La Scala company danced this summer in San Francisco.
The oddities begin immediately when four bald young men wearing nothing but briefs and capes roll imaginary dice and then, laughing sardonically, open sliding portals on an immense architectural vista, as if they are presenting the ballet that follows as some sort of nasty joke. Billowing, dark parachute silk drifts like a cloud down to the stage, and a cart filled with what looks like dead bodies passes by.