It's a good thing that the seats in the National Theater are comfortable. Ballet lovers will be spending a great deal of time in them now that the Mariinsky Theater Ballet Company and Orchestra have returned to Taipei for six performances, beginning tonight.
For its third visit, the company — better known by its Soviet-era name, the Kirov Ballet — is bringing back its much loved version of Swan Lake (is there a law that says every Mariinksy tour must include the swans?), but dance fans can’t wait to see Sleeping Beauty.
This is the first time the troupe has brought its new(ish) Sleeping Beauty. The production has been drooled over and praised since it debuted on April 30, 1999, because ballet master Sergei Vikharev and dance historian Alisa Sveshnikova went back into the archives to reconstruct the ballet as it was first performed in 1890, recreating the original sets, costumes and music — and as much as possible the original choreography, perhaps the most difficult job because a full notation does not exist.
Like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty was set to the luscious music of Peter Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa. But while many people think of Swan Lake as the pinnacle of classical ballet, dance historians say Sleeping Beauty had a profound impact on the development of the art form in the 20th century. Anna Pavlova was inspired to become a dancer after seeing it, just as years later her performances would inspire the 13-year old who would become Sir Frederick Ashton, founding choreographer of Britian’s Royal Ballet. It was the first ballet seen by Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario who launched the first private ballet company. It was his troupe, the Ballets Russes, which brought Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky to Europe and the world.
A word of warning is needed. Both ballets are products of a much more leisurely era. The running time of the three-act Swan Lake is three hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions. The three acts and prologue of Sleeping Beauty, including intermissions, come in at just under four hours — three hours, 50 minutes to be precise. Audience members will probably want to make sure they have dinner before heading to the theater. Just don’t drink too much.
The Mariinsky company arrives in Taipei straight from the nine-day IX International Ballet Festival at their home theater that featured special galas for two of its leading ladies, Uliana Lopatkina and Diana Vishneva. The two, now in their 30s and the prime of their careers, are a study in contrasts. The dark-haired, wide-eyed Vishneva is allegro — famed for her lively physicality and dramatic flair, while the tall, cool Lopatkina is adagio — exquisite in those slow movements she put to such good use in Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan during a previous visit.
Unfortunately for Taipei audiences, as of press time, the cast lists show just one appearance for Lopatkina, dancing Odette/Odile in Swan Lake on Monday. There will, however, be two chances to see Vishneva. She opens the tour as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty tonight and will dance the swan lead on Tuesday.
Two fast-rising first soloists will also dance Aurora, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Anastasia Kolegova, while prima ballerina Irma Nioradze will be the final Odette/Odile. Principal dancers Leonid Sarafanov, Evgeny Ivanchenko and Danila Korsuntsev are all familiar faces from previous visits. A listing of who is dancing when can be found on NTCH’s Web site at event.ntch.edu.tw/2009/tif/en/p13_1.html.
Ticket prices are pretty steep. The only ones left range from NT$3,000 to NT$8,000, NT$2,000 more than the top seats for the company’s previous visits. But considering that for that price you get a full company, full orchestra and full sets — unlike the traveling trunk productions of the Russian Festival Ballet — it is value for money, even if it works out to about NT$3.5 a minute for a Sleeping Beauty orchestra seat.
WHAT: The Ballet Company and Orchestra of Mariinsky Theater, (Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake)
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm (Sleeping Beauty) and Monday to Wednesday at 7:30pm (Swan Lake)
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1, Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$3,000 to NT$8,000;
available through NTCH ticketing or online
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