The fourth Mariinsky programme to grace the Royal Opera stage was another triple bill: Scotch Symphony and Ballet Imperial by George Balanchine, and In The Night by Jerome Robbins. Although this was an evening of American choreography, New York City Ballet territory, the roots are here with this company. Balanchine, one of its favourite sons, and his disciple Robbins, built on the traditions of the St Petersburg troupe, who take to these three pieces as ducks to water, and excel – especial the women (Balanchine: “dance is woman”)
Great Mariinsky ballerinas are a breed apart, even from Bolshoi women. They take the stage with a consciousness of entitlement that's thrilling to watch, and when this almost sacred sense of mystique and grace instilled in St Petersburg comes with vivid expressive distinction too, then there really is nothing like it.
said The Arts Desk.
Scotch Symphony (1952)
Balanchine was inspired to create Scotch Symphony after New York City Ballet's first visit to the Edinburgh Festival. The music is the last three movements of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony and the choreography's theme, inevitably, is a nod to La Sylphide.
noted The Times. This is not everyone's cup of tea,
Larded with tartan and hinting, with a touch of embarrassment, that at any moment it might become a jig, it journeyed too close for comfort to that well known Scottish landmark, the Brink of Twee.
thought the Independent on Sunday; but this is surely a matter of taste,
It is a small and, I find, mysteriously beguiling marvel, like the 1830s Sylphide herself. The idea of an unattainable beloved (the sylph) haunts it, but so do tiny hints of comedy – poses reminiscent of group photographs; the heroine as apparition – while the dances speak of Scottish reels and their formations and, everywhere, of Mendelssohn's Hibernia. I love the piece and adore the way the Mariinsky plays it. It needed a more subtle ballerina than Anastasia Matvienko to lure the fine Alexander Sergeyev to his balletic doom, but the clarity and elegance of the ensemble were tremendous.
said The Financial Times' Clement Crisp. And he wasn't the only one to have reserves over Matvienko,
Anastasia Matvienko doesn't have an ounce of mystery in her body, which makes her encounters with Alexander Sergeyev's beautiful dreamer, workaday rather than dramatic.
Anastasia Matvienko lacks sufficiently evanescent technique for the ballerina role: more Highland lassie than scotch mist.
Sergeyev on the other hand won over audience and critics alike,
In every gesture you saw him striving to earn the right to represent his great tradition honorably, both aesthetically and expressively. He does, with laurels.
swooned Ismene Brown for The Arts Desk.
But then came everyone's favourite part of the evening:
In the Night (1970)
Words that hardly serve to describe a phenomenal performance of In the Night. Three couples, varied in their emotions. Chopin piano music. Love serene (Yevgenia Obraztsova and Filipp Stepin); love more mature (Alina Somova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko); love as anguish and final joy (Ulyana Lopatkina and Danila Korsuntsev). Flawless dancing, born of the music, alert to every possibility, to every emotional breath, exquisite in nuance, from each artist.
said The Financial Times. The Arts Desk added,
It's what US balletomanes call a “piano ballet”, with long dresses, Chopin nocturnes, and love on the agenda – it can be as lavish or as stilted as its interpreters make it. For sure, there's no other art form that so eagerly glorifies flaky emotional behaviour by women, but what succulent movement it inspires in the hands of a genius of theatre like Robbins when a woman can be played back and forth through dance like a yoyo.
The Evening Standard adored Robbins' choreography,
Like a sleeping beauty, Robbins arouses the dancers from a slumber. His steps are hard enough to maintain interest but sensuous enough to give warmth and curve. The dancers infuse his moves with languor and longing, and then phrase his gestures with laughter. It's rare for them to move with such poignant ease, or to look so gorgeous.
The Independent commented on the first couple dancing the first Chopin nocturne,
Although their steps are pure ballet, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Filipp Stepin are in spirit Maria and Tony from Robbins's West Side Story; bewitched by each other and floating on air.
The second (Alina Somova, Yevgeny Ivanchenko) are more formal, but her emotion is revealed by the way her legs tremble as he holds her, the manner in which she teases him with her arms, leading him on.
noted The Telegraph. The leg tremble struck The Independent too,
Alina Somova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko are an older couple with appearances to maintain, which they do nobly right up until the climactic lift where he upends her, and her foot trembles as uncontrollably as Odette's when she surrenders to Siegfried in Swan Lake – a revelation so intimate you want to look away, but can't.
said The Telegraph. But the greatest praise was reserved for the final pair.
The third couple (Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev) are overtly, theatrically emotional. He appears to reject her. She fights, twists, pleads, but cannot leave. Underlying all of this is an impression of ritual, of games played for mutual excitation, and to see the ineffably beautiful Lopatkina playing them is a dark pleasure indeed.
said The Observer; and The Times agreed,
But absolutely breathtaking was Uliana Lopatkina as the tempestuous and feisty diva throwing herself into Daniil Korsuntsev's willing arms. In this affair she would be a handful, but there would never be a dull moment.
As did The Guardian,
Lopatkina, partnered by a wonderfully responsive Danila Korsuntsev, embodies a woman caught between anger and need. She twists and flinches from Korsuntsev's touch, the emotional static sparking between them, yet, when he threatens to leave, clutches at him with a helpless yearning that's almost too naked to watch.
Wow… And finally:
Ballet Imperial (1941)
The other Balanchine offering is the work of a master builder that references Swan Lake and its ilk while allowing a big ensemble to indulge its more frolicsome side.
commented The Times. Balanchine excelled with the plotless ballet, giving his NYCB dancers some fiendish steps. The Guardian said,
Technique, however, is brilliantly on parade in Ballet Imperial. Balanchine's profligately inventive choreography creates a palatial dance world of ballrooms, corridors, secret places and dreams, through which the male lead pursues his ballerina.
Everyone agreed that the dancers were on top form here, as though Balanchine had created the ballet for them, which, in a way, he had. It fit the company like a glove. The FT loved it,
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.