The Mikhailovsky Ballet
July 18th 2010
The Mikhailovsky Ballet was first seen in London a couple of years ago, also at the Coliseum, when they were warmly received. This time they’ve fared less well so far, though expectations were high.
They started with Le Halte de Cavalerie, 36 minutes of alpine fun. Set in an Austrian village, the action revolves around two peasant girls who are in love with the same man, Peter. Sound familiar ? Women in ballet never take the easy route either. The arrival of the Hussars causes much excitement but poor Peter is arrested in the confusion. Eventually Peter and Maria (he is flattered by the flashy attentions of the other girl, Teresa, but Maria is more his cup of tea), make their wedding arrangements despite Teresa having none of it. By this time, Teresa has noticed the Colonel, who is besotted with her, before eventually leaving with the Hussars.
The Principal casting is unchanged from their debut; Olga Semyonova gets the best choreography as Teresa, but gentle Maria, danced by Anastasia Lomachenkova has some lovely, lilting pas de deux with Peter (Anton Ploom). Andrei Bregvadze plays the Colonel with some panache – all shaky, trembling knees just like your favourite Uncle; but slightly more lascivious.
In A Minor Key, by ex-Royal Ballet dancer Slava Samodurov, is a change of style for the Russians. The girls have the long slender limbs and beautiful feet to show off the modern choreography – the six o’clock legs; off balances, powerful leg extensions, and the men pull of the lifts with ease, but this is still relatively new to them and consequently it doesn’t all sit easily. One of the dancers seemed to pause, as though she’d hurt her knee or forgotten the next step. The stage lighting rigs, moving up and down, have been worked to greater visual effect by Birmingham Royal Ballet, and whose idea was it that the men should wear half a windsock on their heads ? I miss having a moving spotlight. The ladies had fabulous ruby red corsetry, lacing up at the back (credit to designer Ellen Butler) and showing off their physiques to perfection, with no tights. The combative dance, three pas de deux and some solos, with legs hooked over arms, isn’t as spiky as some modern pieces can be, which helped the dancers, and I liked the way they gracefully bowed to each other as part of the dance. I especially liked the pas de deux between Vera Arbuzova and Evgeniy Deryabin. Towards the end I spotted a man opening and closing a door at the top of the stage (the sides are open) – was this part of the piece or an accident ? Overall, the piece was over-long, and, curiously, ends with a raised backdrop displaying a pile of crates and cases, in the middle of which, incongruously, sits a row of swans.
The offering of Divertissements has changed since the company was last here. Instead of Dragonfly (a shame) we have Polonaise and Cracovienne from the Opera Ivan Susanin. The costumes are rather wintery & heavy, creamy drapes for the ladies with feathers in their hair and white ankle boots, courtly jackets with capes for the men, with clean white gauzy curtains to the sides and backdrop. It all comes together in a lovely swirly ending with everyone on stage.
Ocean and Pearls was left at home and the famous Spartacus Pas de deux took centre stage. This is not an easy showpiece. The lifts are many and varied; all need to be carried off with a panache that entirely covers the difficulty. Very glittery leotard and short skirt for Vera Arbuzova (who I had picked out for special mention in the earlier In A Minor Key); almost nothing at all save a couple of shin pads for Spartacus – the miscast Marat Shemiunov, whose effete dancing isn’t suited to the slave hero. He has not had a good tour, with his Prince Siegfried distinctly below par. Here he did pull off the difficult and dangerous (for Arbuzova) one arm lift, but it seemed to sap his strength and he dropped her on the transition to the next steps. He has clown hands, often splaying them triumphantly in a way that seemed to detract from the good elements of his partnering.
Back again was The Fairy Doll Pas de trois, a confection of loveliness with Sabina Yapparova and two new Pierrot’s – Maksim Yeremeyev and Nikolay Arzyaev, who both displayed virtuoso technique and comic timing.
The Sleeping Beauty Pas de deux, with a rare chance to see the exquisite Maria Kochetkova (Principal with San Francisco ballet) dance Aurora in the UK, was a delight from start to finish. Ably partnered by Andrei Yakhnuyk, Kochetkova took the out-of-context pas de deux and made it sparkle with musicality and joie de vivre, with delicate hands where you can really see that she feels the music right through her port de bras. She is a treasure, dressed in an elegant tutu, finely jewelled in a fresh, light blue/green. Yakhnuyk seemed to almost fall into the final position, tiredness taking hold.
Spring Waters, an essay in athleticism with Rachmaninov’s fluid music and rich blue costumes, calls for assured partnering. Tyutchev’s poem, The Spring Waters, describes the awakening of nature, and Irina Perren is ideally cast with huge airborne leaps; Marat Shemiunov less appealing but competent.
I admire the Company for bringing these works to us. All of the dancers work hard and were appreciated by the audience. You can see them perform Laurencia on 20th & 21st July, and Swan Lake (with the Royal Ballet Principal Tamara Rojo on 22nd July), 23, 24 & 25th July. I would recommend that you do.