THE KIROV BALLET in London, 1988, with Natalia Makarova, Altynai Asylmuratova and Faroukh Ruzimatov, Oleg Vinogradov artistic director. The Wren Orchestra of London, conducted by Viktor Fedotov. Kultur 1259
The giant ballet companies of Russia and small touring packets of their greatest artists have been abroad for several years, ever since the Cold War melted down - an exposure long and cool enough to allow some opinions to form, and the Kirov Ballet comes off well in such an assessment.The Bolshoi Ballet is often criticized for its lack of spirit, emotional dynamics and even technique, and its longtime artistic director, Yuri Grigorovich, comes across as an intrenched bureaucrat who is hanging on at all costs.
But the Kirov regularly draws flattering attention. And these two releases, spanning more than 20 years, show the consistently refined artistry and beauty of concept and detail at which this company excels.
Of course, the filmed "The Sleeping Beauty" has been around for a long time but has only recently entered the home video market. Time has not been entirely kind to the colors, with pastels sometimes faded and coarse orangish overtones in the autumnal coloring of Act III. Also, many of the film techniques are crude and outdated. But none of that dims the basic fascination of a production so stylishly costumed, designed and danced.
The Aurora of blond Alla Sizova is fresh as springtime, and marvelously controlled, with an assured Rose Adagio and all else to match. Natalia Dudinskaya, winding down a powerful career, dances a telling Carabosse, though she is not surrounded with the trappings of evil that make Ballet West's Carabosse so scary. The good fairies of Act I are gorgeous in appearance and accomplished in movement.
You will spot the young Natalia Makarova and fellow-defector Valeri Panov as the Blue Bird and Princess Florine, showing the techniques and personalities that have taken them far in the West.
But perhaps most wonder-inducing to occidental eyes is the prodigality of the crowd scenes, where corps of 40 and 50 dancers are not uncommon, and large children's corps often mix in to piquant effect. The Sleeping Beauty Waltz is a spectacular example of this, with close to 100 dancers filling the large castle space.
THE KIROV IN LONDON is remarkable for the return of Makarova, 23 year later, to the company she left behind. (She has since danced on the Kirov stage in Leningrad.) Time has dimmed her powers somewhat, and her traversal of the Act II pas de deux from "Swan Lake" is studied and careful. Yet she and the company celebrate this emotional occurrence fully.
Other excerpts are pretty much cut from the same classic cloth. The company begins with the Kingdom of the Shades from "La Bayadere" - a spectacular opener with 32 ballerinas descending the perilous ramp, pausing every few beats for steady arabesques. Good as the soloists are, this scene really belongs to the corps.
"La Esmeralda" pas de six has a charming gypsy flavor to it, and "La Vivandiere" pas de deux is a pert little piece, with a hint of can can jollity. In "Le Papillon," Irina Kolpakova makes the most deliciously graceful butterfly imaginable.
The "Don Quixote" pas de deux suffers from a lack of true hispanic verve, but the "Corsaire" of the fiery, reckless Ruzimatov and the poised fire-and-ice Asylmuratova is a galvanic ending for this treasurable video. An endless amount of dainty corps work, little related to this tale of pirates and shipwreck, shows why the pas de deux is about all that survives from a full-length "Le Corsaire."
If either of these videos has a fault, it is the Russian tendency to elongate, lengthen, deliberate, linger and spit-and-polish every movement to excess. Tempos are often annoyingly slow; harder to dance, incidentally, but taxing to the patience. And now that we have seen what they can do better than any other company - 19th century classicism - we will wait for the Kirov to come into the 20th century.