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U.S./Russia: Kirov Ballet Creating A Stir At New York Summer Festival

  • Nikola Krastev

The Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg opened Lincoln Center's Summer Festival 2002 in New York this week with three classics in the Petipa tradition: "Swan Lake," "Don Quixote," and a revival of "La Bayadere." Expectations run high for a company of this caliber, and if the first reviews and attendance are any indication, the Kirov has little to worry about. The Kirov is also performing "Jewels," regarded as one of choreographer George Balanchine's masterpieces. The Kirov dancers not only breathe fresh air into a technically formidable performance but also confirm Balanchine's connection to St. Petersburg, where he was educated.

New York, 12 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- This year's Lincoln Center Festival marks the Kirov Ballet and Opera's first visit to New York in three years, and begins a two-year collaboration between the Kirov and the Metropolitan Opera.

The festival features the North American premiere of Kirov's new production of Leon Minkus's "La Bayadere," as well as productions of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," Minkus's "Don Quixote," and the New York premiere of George Balanchine's "Jewels." The works also feature the Kirov Orchestra, under the direction of Valerii Gergiev.

While the revival of "La Bayadere" is creating excitement in New York for its authenticity to Russian Marius Petipa's 19th-century original, "Jewels" -- a three-act piece from 1967 that features the music of Faure, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky -- is considered to be the ideal work showing the development of Balanchine's style as it evolved from the 19th-century Russian classical tradition.

The director of the Kirov Ballet, Makhar Vaziev, tells RFE/RL that there is an obvious connection between the dance tradition created by Balanchine in New York in the 1930s and 1940s and the classical ballet tradition of St. Petersburg: "Balanchine is the greatest classical [dance] choreographer of the 20th century, in the same manner as Petipa is the greatest classical choreographer of the 19th century. There is a development and there is connection [between the two]. Balanchine began in St. Petersburg. He was educated and he was schooled in St. Petersburg. He [later] expanded classical dance [in New York]. He added his own stylistics and dynamic to it, but the fundamentals were classical and the desire of a classical ballet troupe [such as the Kirov] to dance Balanchine is a natural one. The choice of 'Jewels,' I think, is natural and organic, too."

The staging of Balanchine's more than 200 works is strictly guided by the New York-based George Balanchine Trust, which was established to preserve the integrity and purity of Balanchine's style after his death in 1983.

Vaziev says there is an ongoing exchange between the George Balanchine Trust and the Kirov Ballet. Since 1989, seven of Balanchine's works have been staged in St. Petersburg under exclusive arrangements between the trust and the Kirov.

The Russian premiere of "Jewels," Vaziev tells RFE/RL, occurred at St. Petersburg's Mariinskii Theater in 1999 to great acclaim.

"In Russia, [the staging of] 'Jewels' stirred astonishing interest. I can say that 'Jewels' so organically merged into our repertoire that it perhaps once again highlights the fact that Balanchine was a genius."

Vaziev was asked if he had ever considered bringing dancers from the New York City Ballet, Balanchine's company, to St. Petersburg to perform "Jewels." Vaziev tells RFE/RL that the idea was rather to do Balanchine with only Russia's home-grown talent: "We wanted to stage ['Jewels'] from the very beginning, and we were discussing it with Barbara Horgan [of] the [George Balanchine] Trust. They were sending their teachers and repetiteurs (coaches). Naturally, we were trying to develop the work exactly as we were coached, as we were guided. We didn't have, as it is said proverbially, a desire to dance it 'Russian-style,' although unconsciously we are perhaps dancing it a bit differently. It is natural. It is unconscious, in a way."

The 42-year-old Vaziev began his association with the Kirov during the 1970s, eventually becoming the principal male dancer of the troupe. He took over the company's management in 1995. Some observers credit Vaziev with creating a more liberated and dashing approach toward the classical ballet heritage than his predecessor, Oleg Vinogradov.

Vaziev tells RFE/RL that in tradition and scope, it is hard to compare the American classical ballet school and the Russian classical dance school: "I would say that the St. Petersburg ballet school [tradition] has already accumulated a colossal, I'd say, an ancient history, while the American classical ballet school [tradition] was mainly developed by Balanchine. He was the one who created this school, and naturally there are differences between the two."

The Kirov Ballet's performances in the 2002 Lincoln Center Summer Festival continue through 20 July. Vaziev says the Kirov Ballet is planning to stage several more of Balanchine's works in 2004 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the choreographer's birth.