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Kirov is truly transcendent

October 17, 2003|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

The first local Kirov Ballet engagement in more than a decade didn't exactly open as planned, Wednesday at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

The originally scheduled prima ballerina quit to join the Bolshoi. Flu reduced the female corps from 32 to 24 in "The Kingdom of the Shades," one of classical ballet's most celebrated tests of ensemble excellence. A late arrival led to a last-minute replacement in a major male showpiece.

Dancer injury also took its toll on the roster, and American tour management further undercut the company by substituting a truncated, patchwork, Soviet-era version of "La Bayadere" for the loving reconstruction of Marius Petipa's complete four-hour original that created a big stir in London this summer and in New York a season ago.

But don't expect a disaster report on the Wednesday performance -- not after the Kirov's triumphant reassertion of its Petipa heritage, not after Igor Zelensky's imaginative fusion of danseur noble majesty and bravura pyrotechnics and, most of all, not after Diana Vishneva's glorious reminder that ballerina greatness is what 19th century ballet was created to enshrine.

In the role of Nikiya, a doomed temple dancer in ancient India, Vishneva treated mime passages as lyric dances and formal choreography as a treasure trove of physical revelations: magically floating arms, a stupendously pliant spine, stratospheric extensions and pointe work of dazzling speed and exactitude.

Expressively, she used the Minkus score as the externalization of her feelings -- riding its shifts of mood and impetus with unerring surety -- and it didn't hurt that conductor Mikhail Sinkevich produced an unexpectedly sensitive performance from the Kirov Orchestra. With the lyricism of the score as persuasively rendered as its attempts at exotic splendor, all the choreographic facets of "La Bayadere" gained a new credibility.

The production offered familiar cuts and interpolations in new, elaborate sets and costumes originally designed for a 1900 Kirov (a.k.a. Maryinsky) staging. Flesh-colored net simulated bare skin most of the time, but the less prudish costumes for Vishneva, Zelensky, Ruben Bobovnikov (the Golden Idol) and a few others allowed the audience periodic opportunities for navel-gazing.

Heeled shoes turned up in some divertissements previously danced in pointe slippers, and the unusually detailed mime passages also seemed another legacy of the recent, complete Kirov "Bayadere." For decades, Russian ballet repudiated mime, but you'd never know it from the fluency of the performances Wednesday by such artists as Vladimir Ponomarev (the High Brahmin), Pyotr Stasiunas (the Rajah), Vishneva and Zelensky.

As the heroic, conflicted warrior Solor, Zelensky partnered two ballerinas with equal assurance and danced with majestic placement and extraordinary buoyancy but lost elegance at the end of the "Kingdom of the Shades" finale with an overload of flash.

Tatiana Tkachenko displayed enormous promise as the murderous princess Gamzatti, but both her mime and classical dancing looked soft, lacking the force that would make her a genuine rival to Nikiya.

Bobovnikov also needed greater sharpness of attack to make memorable the Golden Idol's interpolated showpiece, but such soloists as Nikolay Zubkovsky (the lead fakir), Elena Yushkovskaya (the jar-balancing dancer) and everyone in the quasi-barbaric drum dance ensemble upheld Kirov standards of vibrant character dancing.

Led by Irina Golub, Irina Zhelonkina and Tatiana Amosova (two of whom are scheduled to dance Gamzatti later in the run), the reduced Shades provided an authoritative statement of Petipa classicism -- though one could regret that the first part of the sequence had to be viewed through a gauze scrim.

Perhaps the missing Shades will return before the Kirov moves on to other repertory in another theater. Perhaps, too, the daily emergency revisions of principal casting will settle down.

But this is the company that gave us most of the ballets that have become classics -- and most of the dancers who set the standard of how to perform them. It is an indispensable treasure of world dance, reflowering again after a period of decline, and we can only marvel at the magnificence -- and resilience -- it embodies.*

Kirov Ballet

Where: Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Tonight, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.

Price: $25-$100

Contact: (213) 365-3500


Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. (Fokine program); Friday, 8 p.m.; Oct. 25, 2 and 8 p.m.; Oct. 26, 2 p.m. ("Jewels")

Price: $25-$100

Contact: (714) 740-7878

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