|Class Concert. Angelina Vorontsova and Leonid Sarafanov. Photo by Stas Levshin
Le Halte de Cavalerie (1896, company premiere: 1975) is ancient history, relatively speaking. With a libretto and choreography by Petipa, it is old enough to embrace slapstick chauvinism and broad caricature. In a way, this permits the dancers to sink deeply into their cartoonish characters, and simply have fun. Two young women pursue a local lad (Leonid Sarafanov, who was, delightfully, omnipresent in the programs I'd chosen); they in turn are wooed by officers in a military platoon. There's a lot of ogling and flirtation and silly walks, all in outdated fun. One of the women even gives the men some comeuppance by imitating their foolish mannerisms.
|Class Concert. Ekaterina Borchenko.
Photo by Stas Levshin
Class Concert is familiar in form—the re-enactment of a ballet class starting with the little sprouts (area ballet students), up through company principals. It displays the structure and rigor of the art form, which can evoke fond reminiscences from those of us who studied ballet. The performers are all excellent and clearly chosen for their physical gifts, even if the strenuous effort to raise their legs the highest shows. As the exercises build in amplitude, we are reminded that the classroom is a crucible of pressure—Natalia Osipova, the company's biggest star, landed on her fanny after a line of grand jetés. No risk, no reward. (Another dancer fell shortly thereafter.) Ivan Vasiliev, another of the troupe's stars, showed why he's the dancer some love to hate and hate to love, with his wrestler's build, ballon, speed, and deliberate lack of art. Principal dancer Ekaterina Borchenko danced the most sections, showing her pristine line and textbook placement.
Duato stuffed a lot into the subtext of Prelude, a one-act ballet; unpacking it was not an easy task. All but a few of the pointe shoe-clad women wore soft slippers; the ensemble women wore floor-length tulle skirts (Duato also designed these and the sets). All the men wore slick black separates except Sarafanov, in gold. The long skirts alluded to Wilis and swans and Romantic ballets, as did the painted backdrop that resembled so many artificial riverine realms familiar to the story ballet. But creeping under that backdrop were two dancers—modern allegories—who soon took over the stage lit by a chandelier and blue beams; a shimmering bronze drape now covered the cyc. I got the feeling that it was a loose parable for Duato's desire to bring the company into the contemporary era. That said, while he's still affiliated with the company on paper, he is now at the Staatsballett Berlin (read about the company in Marina Harss' NY Times profile). His style is well presented by the Mikhailovsky—Sarafanov is in some ways a prototypical Duato dancer, lean and all line—but the fit has always seemed odd.