By Julie Gervais
Power Center for the Performing Arts
August 18, 2012
With the presentation of its third Gala on Saturday night, Russian Artists International/Ballet Russe took another graceful step forward.
Its mission, the presentation of classical ballet in the Russian tradition, is unique in the area and thus requires some clarification. Does it mean, as some in the audience wondered, that all of the dancers come straight from Russia? No. Does it mean that inclusion of new work by contemporary choreographers is a departure from the mission? Again, no. It means, as the work illustrates, that dancers trained in the exactingly specific Russian method continue to dominate the ranks of the world’s major ballet companies for a very good reason. And, that no matter where they were born or where they dance now or what work they perform, they do ballet like no one else. The crowd at the Power Center seemed to appreciate this.
The structure of a Gala evening is ultimately a tease, and no doubt many people look forward to the day when the Company will be able to present work in longer formats. That said, the only choice is sit back and enjoy the rapid-fire assortment of greatest hits. Those hits were interspersed this year with several excellent contemporary works, following the kickoff with two dances performed by the excellent students of the Russian Ballet Intensive. There were many wonderful moments.
Maria Kochetkova is a Principal Dancer at San Francisco Ballet, and has a most remarkable movement style, velvety even in her sharpness of attack. She is precise without being perfunctory, full of care for every step yet simultaneously somehow carefree in her overall impression. Her first appearance was in a contemporary piece, Yuri Possokhov’s ‘Diving Into the Lilacs’, a title that reportedly has symbolic significance to Russians (and sounds like some kind of outdoor misadventure to the rest of us). The piece is kind of inscrutable in this excerpted section. There’s a lot of yearning and angst and swoopy lines and mysterious events, like when she lies down flat on the floor for a while. In the absence of context, the dance serves as a sort of physical manifestation of emotional state – and that’s plenty.
Sergei Sidorskyi, the leading Principal of the National Ballet of Ukraine, is similarly
confounding – how can a dancer be simultaneously so gallant, yet totally nonchalant? How does he take total command of the stage with confident authority, yet also come across as a most affable fellow? In addition to his classical work in La Bayadere and Don Quixote, he showed a solo that he choreographed for himself. It’s a fair guess that A. Vivaldi would be either very pleased by it, or rather envious, as the whole theater kind of gasped when Mr. Sidorsyki’s open shirt came all the way off.
A fair amount of buzz anticipated the appearance of Keenan Kampa, a young American dancer who graduated from the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg and has just become the first American to join the famous Mariinsky Theatre there. She’s another study in contrasts – so young and American in her look (I would say California, except that she’s from Virginia) yet self-possessed with the formal polish of Russian training. It will be fun to follow her trailblazing career.
Courtney Richardson (a Detroit native) and her partner Ernesto Boada showed two contemporary pieces: Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘After the Rain’, and ‘Sweet Spell of Oblivion’ by David Dawson, who is the choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Their work together seems highly charged, and
Ms. Richardson is shocking in her beauty and in the luxuriousness of her shapes and lines. As ‘Sweet Spell’ got underway, I felt my jaw drop open and stay there. It’s sexy and gorgeous and urgent and a little crazy; seeming only tethered to reality by Bach’s music. This is a great example of the kind of innovative work well underway in Europe, where the developed tastes lead to more open experimentation that our American free market will support.
Olga Pavlova is a consummate Russian ballerina. In dance training, one is often coached to ‘fully commit’ to the movement and I know of no other ballerina that shows this idea so clearly. She and Andrey Ivanov had one of the most difficult spots on the program when they had to swing the audience back to hardcore classical directly following the Wheeldon piece. It would intimidate all but the best.
Mr. Ivanov, a soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre who also danced with Ms. Pavlova in Carmen near the top of the show, is credited with the choreography for the Finale, but unmentioned as the possible architect of some highly mischievous shenanigans taking place in the last parts of the Don Quixote pas de deux sequence. Suffice it to say that the Russians, contrary to what some believe, have a highly developed sense of humor and don’t take themselves all that seriously.
Mark your calendars for next year’s Gala: August 17, 2013. The students of the Russian Ballet Intensive and the Stars of the Russian Ballet Gala look forward to surprising you.