Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Ballet as only the Russians can

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

The creme de la creme of Russian ballet brings some swans, a Spanish flirt and Christmas crackers to town next week.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF NTCH

The Moscow City Ballet has returned to Taiwan with its suitcases packed with swans, some Christmas crackers and a Spanish flirt.

Formed in 1988 by the dancer-turned-choreographer Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, the troupe is a rarity in the world of Russian ballet in that it is a private company, not state-funded. His more than 20 years as a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and then working as chief ballet master for the Odessa State Opera and Ballet Theater must have given Smirnov-Golovanov a lifetime's worth of dealing with the red tape and bureaucracy. No wonder he was so keen to break out on his own.

Smirnov-Golovanov's aim in establishing the troupe was to bring the great 19th-century romantic ballets to audiences in Russia and around the world. He has kept the focus of the repertoire on the big guns: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and Don Quxiote. His productions work best when he sticks to the established choreographic canon, less well when he inserts too much of his own vision.

The dancers of the Moscow City Ballet are all graduates of the best ballet schools in Russia and Ukraine. The company's strength lies in the discipline of its corps de ballet, which is absolutely essential if you are going to be doing the classics, especially two shows a day on weekends. The principals names aren't familiar to audiences outside of Russia, but they are all outstanding dancers.

The company opens its run at the National Theater with Don Quixote, a lovely ballet set to the music of Ludwig Minkus and principal choreography by the great 19th century ballet master and choreographer Marius Petipa whose version of the ballet premiered in 1869.

Performance notes

What: Moscow City Ballet

Where: National Theater

When: Wednesday July 18 and Thursday, July 19 (Don Quixote) at 7:30pm; Friday July 20 at 7:30pm and Saturday July 21 (Swan Lake) at 2:30pm and 7:30pm; and Sunday July 22 (The Nutcracker) at at 2:30pm and 7:30pm

Tickets: NT$500 to NT$3,000; available at the box office of artstickets.com.tw

Additional: Tomorrow 7:30pm, Swan Lake, Chungshan Hall, Taichung (台中中山堂); Sunday 7:30pm, Swan Lake, Chih-the Hall, Kaohsiung (高雄至德堂); Tuesday 7:30pm, Swan Lake, Chiayi Cultural Center (嘉義市文化局演藝廳)


Based on some chapters from Miguel Cervantes' classic, the ballet tells the story of an innkeeper's daughter, Kitri (Quiteria in the book), whose father wants her to marry the rich Gamache (Comacho) but she's in love with Bailio (Basil), the village barber. Don Quixote and his faithful Sancho Panza are reduced to character roles in the ballet, although the windmill that is the Don's nemesis does appear in a crucial scene. In keeping with the fairy tale spirit of the ballet world, it will come as no surprise that true love triumphs.

Moscow City Ballet's Swan Lake will be familiar to those who have seen the Kirov's version during that company's appearances in Taiwan, since it is based on Petipa's traditional choreography and the reworkings by famed Russian dance teacher Agrippina Vaganova, as well as variations added by the Bolshoi Ballet's former artistic director/choreographer Yuri Grigorovich as well as Smirnov-Golovanov.

One of unique feature of Smirnov-Golovanov's production is Odile's costume in Act Two when she first appears in a tutu that is half white, half black. Keeping her white side to the prince helps convince him that she is his beloved Odette, while the audience sees her black side. Once the prince declares his love for her she reappears in an all-black tutu that reflects her true nature.

Last, but not least, the company ends its stay in Taipei with the classic Christmas tale, The Nutcracker, complete with giant Christmas tree, an evil Mouse King and heroic Nutcracker Prince and everygirl Clara.

Set to Pyotr Tchaikovsky's luscious music, the choreography is based on Petipa's original, with many of the standard variations and a few new twists. Clara's godfather, Drosselmeyer, is not the kindly old man with lots of presents for the children but a rival of the Nutcracker Prince for Clara's attentions. Instead of the standard pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and the prince in Act Two, it is Drosselmeyer who dances the divertissement. That's more the stuff of little girl's nightmares, than a candy-coated dream. 

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