Moscow and Kiev met Los Angeles most agreeably Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, as dancers from Russia and America joined in a program that displayed the balletic specialties of both nationalities, while providing a common meeting ground. That common ground was the choreographies of George Balanchine, whose style the Russians want to learn, a style in which Clifford and his dancers are adept.
No doubt about it, when bridging the communication gap between those of different cultures, languages and politics, nothing succeeds better than body language - those little gestures of the hands and arms, those shakes and nods of the head and the thousands of almost instinctive movements that are understood universally, even in dead silence.So dance is ideal for breaking barriers, a natural, happy communicator, and dancers have been the most numerous class of artist to flow our way since glasnost enlightened relations with Russia.
Principal dancers of the Bolshoi and Kiev ballets have joined the Los Angeles Ballet in this goodwill tour, and the resultant program was a meeting of the minds and bodies, with virtuosity running at full tide. The program consisted of Balanchine dances and John Clifford's own choreographies, which owe a more than passing debt to the Balanchine style.
Bolshoi prima ballerina Alla Khaniashvili-Artiushkina is a tall, limber dancer with wonderfully fluent arms, a small proud head and the sort of body Balanchine loved to enshrine. She was partnered by her husband, Vitaly Artiushkin, a strong, muscular dancer of less poetic grace, but an efficient and romantic partner.
The two were soloists in Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante," a choreography from the `60s, based on the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Third Piano Concerto. The dance reflected the effervescence of the music (which emanated, unfortunately, from a miserably tubby-sounding tape), and the soloists were decently conversant with its style and feeling. Khaniashvili especially mastered the elongations and sunny grace of this work.
When the small, compact couple from Kiev, Evgenia Kostyleva and Anatoli Kucheruk, appeared in the corner of the stage, they had "risk-takers" written all over them. Nor was this an idle stance, for they proceeded to whip out a reckless, breathtaking "Don Quixote" pas de deux, beginning with one-arm lifts and going on from there to a bravura finale that brought down the house.
Perfectly matched, they feed off each other's daring. Kucheruk astounded repeatedly with double spins that ended in a fully extended, kneeling position at the last possible instant, and his spins with leg extended were spectacular. Kostyleva was strong and vibrant in duo, daintily secure in her little solo (though one missed the flirtatious fan).
Clifford's "Notturno," set to Schubert, is an ultra romantic, moonlit dance for solo couple and three supporting couples, and Khaniashvili proved herself an apt pupil of the loose-limbed, pliant style of this work, draping herself romantically over her partner, this time L.A. Ballet's Antonio Lopez.
The guest couples combined for "Verdi Pas de Quatre," a piece that incorporated many Russian specialities to gently kid the style. It's harder to be both comical and virtuosic at the same time, and the Artiushkins were most successful at clowning, either because they had the funnier steps, or were better at playing off the straight style with telling little pantomimic gestures.
In Clifford's "Fantasies," with luscious music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, two couples (Karyn Connell and Courtland Weaver, Diane Dickson and David Rodriguez) seemed at ease in a dance that demanded extravagant energy expenditure with its many lifts and acrobatic twinings. Clifford's "Bolero," new this year, has the advantage of Ravel's popular hypnotic music. Stylishly led by Antonio Lopez, it develops enjoyably enough, but needs more flamenco heat and abandon. The dancers never let go into the orgy of movement suggested by the music's climax.