20 AUGUST 1988, Page 41


Kirov Ballet Moscow Classical Ballet (Business Design Centre, Islington)

Ducks among the swans

Deirdre McMahon

atalia Makarova's return to the Kirov Ballet in the Swan Lake pas de deux was an emotional occasion. Makarova has always paid tribute to the schooling and tradition of her native company. These strengths have been evident in the Kirov's three-week visit to London but one can also understand why Makarova chose to defect in the first place.

For over 60 years Soviet ballet has existed in a time warp, isolated from every major development in Western dance and living on its past. It has also been buffeted by such ideological winds as socialist real- ism. The effects of this long isolation are evident in the contemporary repertory of both the Kirov and the Bolshoi — the interminable, garrulous epics of Vinogra- dov and Grigorovich, and the derivative sub-Bejart meanderings of Eifman and Briantsev. In the current issue of Dance Theatre Journal there is a fascinating inter- view with Nikita Dolgushin, director of the Choreographic Institute at the Leningrad Conservatory. He refers to Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane (1949) as 'a pearl of contemporary choreography'. This com- ment is depressing because as long ago as 1974 The Moor's Pavane was being bril- liantly parodied by the drag company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

In recent years the pernicious influence of Maurice Bejart, one of the few Western choreographers to be invited to Russia, has been all too persuasive. After decades of isolation, it is not perhaps surprising that Bejart's stale old camp is taken to be the last word in daring modernism.

The Kirov's infatuation with Bejart is but one major symptom of the schizophre- nia which is apparent not just in the repertory but in the company as well. After the last performance of Le Corsaire at Covent Garden I went home in a happy daze. It is one of the silliest ballets ever and the Petipa fragments do not look very convincing but the dancing of Assylmur- atova, Ruzimatov and especially Yelena Pankova was so exquisite that these un- charitable thoughts were banished. Other highlights of the Kirov's visit include Tatyana Terekhova's Paquita and the great Irina Kolpakova in Les Sylphides. However, other, less happy memories also intrude. The Kirov produced Nureyev, Soloviev and Baryshnikov yet on this tour the standard of male dancing, apart from Ruzimatov, has been poor. Konstantin Zaklinsky, who made such a good impression on the Kirov's visit to Paris in 1982, looks puffy and out of shape. Sergei Berezhnoi is long past his prime and Evgeny Neff is wooden and dim. The women are much stronger but again the presence of some ballerinas in the ranks of its principals is inscrutable. Galina Mezent- seva, gaunt and bony, provided a few minutes of comedy as the Dying Swan. She folded her arms with such a determined thump that it was obvious this swan would only be dispatched by a machine gun. She danced Sleeping Beauty Act III with Be- rezhnoi, a performance of surpassing gruesomeness. One could hardly believe they belonged to the same company as Assylmuratova, Pankova and Ruzimatov.

Churchill's famous remark about Russia being a riddle wrapped inside an enigma is an apt definition of the Kirov. But then the company belongs to the beautiful city built by Peter the Great to be the window on the West. It remains to be seen whether the Kirov's identity problems will be exacer- bated or resolved by glasnost.

Schizophrenia of another sort was de- monstrated by the Moscow Classical Ballet which followed the Kirov into the Business Design Centre in Islington. They opened with what was billed as the first ever Anglo-Soviet Swan Lake. The Anglo side was represented by the designer Tim Goodchild and the Soviet by a mish-mash of choreographers and consultants. The result was a mess. The producers, Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov, showed a blithe indifference to the score yet had the temerity to list Petipa and Ivanov on the choreographic credits. Apart from the pas de deux in Acts II and III, little of their work survived. Tim Goodchild's designs, particularly for Act III, are more suited to a Hammer film. It is utterly mystifying that this PR exercise was seen in London and not the Kirov's glorious production which was only seen in Dublin.

The divertissement programme of the Moscow Classical Ballet was not much better. Some of the items duplicated those of the Kirov the week before and this was not to the advantage of the Moscow dancers. There were some promising men, notably Vladimir Malakhov, Igor Teren- tyev and Stanislav Isayev. The women, hard and brassy, looked like rejects from the Bolshoi.

The Moscow Classical Ballet is a salutary reminder that not everything in the Rus- sian garden is rosy. Ever since Diaghilev the British have had a love affair with ballets russes. Yes, they have a lot to give us but also a lot to learn.