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'Reflections': A showcase for Russian ballerinas

The work is the third collaboration between the Orange County Performing Arts Center and a Russian troupe. This time, it mashes Bolshoi-trained dancers with Western choreographers.

January 09, 2011|By Debra Levine, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Henry Segerstrom, developer of South Coast Plaza, had a scheduling glitch. The real-estate tycoon, whose land and multimillions of dollars fostered the development of Orange County's flourishing arts campus, could not attend the 2006 premiere of "Kings of the Dance." So he called Sergei Danilian, who packaged the all-male virtuoso ballet showcase in association with the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Danilian, speaking from his Ardani Artists Management office in New York, remembered the moment vividly. "Henry Segerstrom asked if he and his wife, Elizabeth, could drop in on a rehearsal for half an hour. I told him, 'It's your house; take as much time as you need.' He spent four hours and said, 'Now I know for what we built the theater!'"

The team's third international coproduction, "Reflections," a gender-reversed, female-power version of "Kings," debuts Jan. 20 at OCPAC in Costa Mesa. Made in collaboration with the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, "Reflections" aspires to the popular success of "Kings" and a prior production, "Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion," made with the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Theatre.

Segerstrom, 87, the center's founding chairman, and Danilian, 51, a scrappy Russian-born dance impresario, have shared that vision for five years. Sponsoring new dance development would benefit OCPAC. The theater, which could be dubbed Moscow-on-the-405, had successfully presented the Bolshoi four times and the Kirov and Eifman ballets six times each since 1989. A serious Russian pipeline, not for gas or oil but for ballet, was in place.

"Reflections," so named because it endeavors to express the thoughts and feelings of a new cohort of Russian ballerinas, promises a mash-up of great allure for balletomanes. It matches seven ballerinas — all graduates of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in their mid-20s who perform at superstar level, five in Russia, the rest in the West — with a tempting roster of hip choreographers. After the California performances, the entire production, including a Russian orchestra, escapes from behind the Orange curtain and travels to Moscow for performances at the Bolshoi Theatre the last weekend in January.

Rehearsing together in Costa Mesa in August, according to Bolshoi ballerina Yekaterina Krysanova, "was absolutely a fine time. I am very happy I spent my vacation so creatively. We have all been very excited to see each other. We knew each other from school, and our life after school has been so different."

A complex project (budgeted at "between 1 and 2 million [dollars]," according to the tight-lipped Danilian), "Reflections" knits the old ballet world to the new. Danilian said: "For the center, soon celebrating its 25th anniversary, to hook up with the Bolshoi Theatre, 235 years old, it's a great collaboration. [For] Southern California, where there are no big ballet companies but only touring companies going through, this is very important."

"Reflections" contains a back story: It's a human drama of those who depart, those who remain, and why. Maria Kochetkova left Moscow in 2003 for the English National Ballet. After seeing the San Francisco Ballet perform in London, she put Europe behind her: "The main reason I came [to San Francisco in 2007] is that I had not enough new works, contemporary choreography in London. Now I am perfectly happy. We are really spoiled with new ballets; there is something I want to do every season." Also making a cross-border career move was Polina Semionova, now a virtuoso prima ballerina with the Berlin Staatsoper Ballet.

Five custom-made solos and one duet form the main attraction of "Reflections," a full evening of ballet that includes three other group works. The commissioned choreographers form an elite international corps. Drastic modernist Karole Armitage, minimalist Lucinda Childs and Canadian-born Aszure Barton are New Yorkers. Jorma Elo, a native Finn, choreographs for the Boston Ballet. From the Old World come Wayne McGregor of the Royal Ballet in London and Italy-born Renato Zanella, former director of the Vienna State Ballet. Each ballerina chose her own choreographer for collaboration.

Krysanova described her "hunger for something new. Working with Karole [Armitage] and Mauro [Bigonzetti, the Italian director of Aterballetto], it's my first experience, and I'm very excited. We have close communication with [our] choreographer, and it's a special moment when he personally works with you. I like Karole's choreography, in general. Before we met, I saw her work on Internet. And I feel right away that this is my person."

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