It used to be Russia was synonymous with classical ballet. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the withdrawal of government funding, that’s not true today. With the exception of the extraordinary Kirov and Bolshoi ballets, the country is struggling to keep the art form that they so dearly cultivated in their homeland.
Russia’s ballet blues were underscored by the low-budget Russian National Ballet Theatre. This small band of good, but not excellent, dancers made a stop at The Egg on Friday night. They performed two historic works, Michel Fokine’s “Chopiniana” and Tchaikovsky’s one-act rendering of “Romeo and Juliet.” “Chopiniana” was lovely; “Romeo and Juliet,” dramatic. But both were flawed in ways that chipped away at their enjoyment.
“Chopiniana,” a 1907 ballet set to a suite of Chopin suites that were orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov, embodies the Romantic movement. It’s a plotless ballet of tiptoeing sylphs who enchant a young man. Moving through their world, this dreamer singularly pursues the otherworldly creatures. He is bewitched beyond reason.
The central ballerina, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliev, was divine, light on her feet and delicate. Yet her poet, Yuri Ostrovsky, broke the spell that her bourees and little runs cast by his lax efforts. Rather than an ardent poet seeking the ideal love, he was a pedestrian with a perfect fifth position, but little else of merit.
The corps de ballet dancers, in their calf-length white tutus, were marvelous as they remained posed in position – hands resting on their faces or in an embrace, standing or on bent knees – for the duration of the ballet. While they were not always in synch, they formed a billowing frame that swelled and dissolved. Too bad the romance between lover and sylph was lackluster.
The company came to life in the condensed “Romeo and Juliet.” One could hardly be bored by this tragedy as it unfolded so rapidly. This version, choreographed by Marius Petipa and restaged by Elena Radchenko, opened on the masquerade ball, moved straight to Mercutio’s death, Romeo killing Tybalt, and then to Juliet’s fight with her parents over Paris. Then, they were dead. What happened to the balcony scene, the fun times in the city square and the wedding? Really, there was hardly any time for them to fall in love.
But indeed they did as Dmitry Schsemelinin and Maria Klueva, as Romeo and Juliet, demonstrated with their pas de deux in her bedroom. While some of the choreography looked awkward, when they cradled and spiraled around each other on the floor, their blossoming passion was palpable.
Some of the acting was excessive, for example Lord Capulet’s outrage when Juliet rebuffed Paris. He stomped about like a spoiled child. But it was a happy change from the tired “Chopiniana.”
Finally, the Russians do not cut corners on costumes. The “Chopiniana” dresses, with their sheer wings attached to the small of their backs, were crisp and magical. And for such a modest version of “Romeo and Juliet,” attention was given to Juliet’s wardrobe. She was well-dressed for her coming-out at The Egg.