The “Kingdom of the Shades,” Act III of Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère, offers one of ballet’s most resonant visions. Seeking his dead beloved in an opium dream, the faithless, guilt-ridden Solor conjures up a seemingly endless procession of ghostly women—hallucinatory replicas of her. One by one, to Ludwig Minkus’s sweet, repetitive melody, they feed into a four-count phrase—snaking around the stage until they can assemble to display, in perfect unison, their long, slow balances.
In this scene, shown on one of the programs brought here by the Kirov Ballet, the spectral, white-clad chorus is a glamorous machine—impeccable in the synchrony of its parts. Framing the stage in two lines, pressed tutu to tutu, the women echo the steps of the soloists as if stirred by some collective unconscious peculiar to ballerinas.
This precision, clarity, and obedience to tradition mark the Kirov’s approach to the 19th-century classics created when it was St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet. (This week’s programs feature works by William Forsythe and George Balanchine.) The women sparkle like perfectly cut diamonds. You may occasionally fault their phrasing or their lack of emotional nuance, but never their technique. Gorgeous Diana Vishneva wins almost as many bravos for smiling and bourréeing around on the tips of her toes in the “Animated Garden” sequence from Le Corsaire as she does for whipping off rock-steady fouettés in the ballet’s showy pas de trois.
The Kirov delivers thrilling dancing, although its stars often seem to be hearing their coach’s instructions in their heads rather than responding to the music and the moment. It’s mesmerizing to watch tall Ekaterina Kondaurova, as the third Shade in Bayadère, measure out the balances of her solo with exquisite control. It’s less satisfying that the dazzling Uliana Lopatkina as Nikiya, her face tilted upward as if she’s performing for the balcony, ends up looking more aggressive than forgiving toward her lover. The most exciting moments for me come in the pas de deux from Agrippina Vaganova’s Diana and Acteon, when Victoria Tereshkina launches herself into arabesques as if she herself were the huntress’s arrows (forget her flimsy prop bow). And I’m especially captivated by the lovely, rounded dancing of Ekaterina Osmolkina in a Don Quixote variation and Svetlana Ivanova’s delicacy as an “Odalisk Girl” in Corsaire.
You can overdose on the requisite displays of virtuosity—the multiple pirouettes with one leg winging out, the split jumps, the hops on pointe, the spins in a circle. The biggest bounding steps are for the men, of course. In Corsaire, Danila Korsuntsev’s long scissoring legs threaten the boundaries of the stage (much smaller than the one this company is used to). Mikhail Lobukhin as Acteon does some leaping any stag would envy. And Leonid Sarafanov performs his feats in Don Quixote with a beautiful clarity and composure that in no way detracts from his role as a dashing fellow. This show is about the dancers, but Petipa’s small variations, like one beautifully executed by Svetlana Ivanova in Corsaire, are invariably marvelously designed displays of charm and intricate footwork, and the garlands he weaves of dancers are as magical as the uncanny skills on view.
For Eliot Feld, virtuosity takes the form of ordeal. In his choreography, dancers struggle with their own bodies or natures, as Ha-Chi Yu does so eloquently in the Swan Lake deconstruction, Pursuing Odette, that he made for her two years ago. They also struggle with equipment. Threading around one another while pressed against a plywood wall, the three men in Backchat (Anthony Bryant, Wu-Kang Chen, and Adrian Danchig-Waring) also clamber up it and swing out from it, gripping a high ledge with one hand.
In Feld’s new, somewhat murky Undergo, the remarkable Chen contorts and undulates his body until, after thrashing inside a clear plastic bag, he pulls a vast length of brown paper over and under a series of huge suspended rollers by Mimi Lien (a terrific effect) and burrows under the paper, pulling and crushing it around him until he resembles not an emergent butterfly but a crumbling boulder. He is goaded through this ordeal by recordings of Meredith Monk’s mysterious and incandescent vocal compositions and three inscrutable figures, costumed like him (by Loie Delft) in dark tights, intricately cut to bare flesh. These people (Yu, Bryant, and Christopher Vo) twine and nestle together, sometimes atop two Plexiglas cubes lit from within by Aaron Copp.
For Fang-Yi Sheu, until recently the jewel of the Martha Graham Company, Feld has created a solo that, like many Graham dances, takes the form of an arduous journey through a darkly symbolic world. Isis in Transit refers to the Egyptian goddess who traveled the world seeking the scattered body parts of her husband Osiris so that she could reassemble and resurrect him. To the increasingly jostling voices in Steve Reich’s Violin Phase, Sheu traverses a threatening landscape (by Lien and Feld). She steps fluidly and repeatedly up and down a series of small metal peaks to reach a thicket of flexible, clear-plastic rods she must enter. When she releases the ones she has grasped, they clatter. She leans on bundles of them to sway out, perilously close to the floor, and is sprung back. She clambers up, supported by these reeds yet entangled, thrashing. There’s also a large, shallow bowl on which she balances, shaking; a flight of stairs to climb; and a glassed-in chute down which she must slide before entering a shining sculpture of metal tubing that flies her upward. Twisting into stiffly archaic stances, arching her body, shuddering, dragging herself along the floor, Sheu brings to this ordeal a luminous intensity. But Feld doesn’t envision release: Suspended above the stage, she’s twisting her feet, still traveling.
At villagevoice.com, read Deborah Jowitt on Alex Escalante and see additional listings