Hard-working dancers triumph

The Mikhailovsky Theatre has opened the new season with a ballet ‘triptych’. No anthems were sung and no speeches given before the curtain rose on the first production of the new theatrical year. Instead, without the slightest fuss, the theatre launched straight into a première. The legendary Class Concert, with choreography by Asaf Messerer, has been brought to the Mikhailovsky stage by the heir to that dancing dynasty, Mikhail Messerer. Olga Fedorchenko attended the first performance of the 2014/15 season.

In keeping with the chronology of the evening (ballets of the nineteenth, twentieth, then twenty-first centuries), Class Concert was placed in the centre of the trio. It was preceded by Marius Petipa’s charming, light comedy Le Halte de cavalerie, while Nacho Duato’s recently premiered White Darkness concluded the evening in psychedelic fashion. Class Concert succeeded in providing the emotional focus of the evening. The festively attired audience (the most elegant of whom were captured in the theatre’s main foyer by a high society magazine photographer) shrieked and squealed like teenagers at a rock concert.

Mikhail Messerer, Ballet Master in Chief at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, has for several years now conditioned and trained his performers in the tradition of the Soviet classics that he has brought back to life. Only after labouring away at the ‘Old Moscow’ version of Swan Lake and fully absorbing the Soviet heroism of Laurencia and The Flames of Paris, was the company able to turn its attention to this 35-minute, non-narrative performance based on its own everyday existence. And they performed this daily routine as a wonderfully enthralling narrative quest down the most important roads in classical dance. Like a locomotive at full steam we rushed onwards, away from the plié platform at which the youngest pupils of the Vaganova Ballet Academy danced their formative pas at the barre with swan-like grace. We stayed the course through ronds de jambe of all descriptions and sweeping grands battements, performed by the mid-level students, some of whom showed great promise. There was a conscious slowing of pace as we passed through the picturesque plains of the adagio performed par terre. We inevitably accelerated, bit by bit, towards an increasingly intense display of jumps, turns, leaps en pointe, pirouettes, and fouettés before arriving at the central station to a victory fanfare for the triumphant welcome of the heroes of this choreographic production.

Class Concert reflects the victorious movement of hard-working dancers and delivers a striking dose of Soviet figurative optimism. The image of the ideal dancer is forged through the harmonious collective work of the ballerinas: in Anastasiya Soboleva’s particularly clear lines in the adagio; in Natalia Osipova’s ecstatic, triumphant leaps, and the nerve she showed in the finale as she twisted her way in a soaring diagonal into her trademark double saut de basque; in Ekaterina Borchenko’s fearless fouetté, performed without the slightest embellishment of double rotation or movement across the diagonal; in Angelina Vorontsova’s playful and very feminine pas de bourrée and quivering batteries. Among the male performers there is healthy competition. A cold prevented Ivan Vasiliev from setting further records: the average double twists in the air and jetés in a circle, without the additional challenge of the Vasiliev flourishes to which his audience has become accustomed, appeared very ordinary. Although in the midst of the rapidly changing kaleidoscope of final jumps and turns, the eye was drawn by Ivan Vasiliev’s triple saut de basque, a series of unfortunate landings on the diagonal and loose performances from the other soloists in Class Concert dampened the genuinely important and extremely technical achievement. New arrival Nikita Nazarov (who graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy this year) elegantly tackled the entrechat-six, in what can only be called a perfect performance. Enthusiastically embracing the demands of the première, Victor Lebedev flawlessly combined double turns in the air with double fouettés à terre. Friedemann Vogel covered the entire stage in a couple of leaps. And then, like the plumes of a firework, spinning in fish dives, the ballerinas were thrown one after the other into the air, some using just one hand for support, like the victory flames at a socialist competition, and to thunderous applause, stamping feet, and the raucous cries of the audience, the entire company gathered for the group snapshot of the finale.

On this evening, a fair portion of the audience’s elation was reserved for Leonid Sarafanov, who held the three shows together by performing in each. His savvy Pyotr in Le Halte de cavalerie is doubtless a close relation of Colas from La Fille mal gardée: like a Casanova, he veers between the women who love him, playing a delicate game, full of erotic allusions. In Class Concert, he equalled the best with his effortless circle of double assemblés and 32 flawlessly executed large pirouettes, embodying the ideal romantic style of emotional Soviet choreography. And his existential solo of drugged intoxication in Nacho Duato’s White Darkness places Sarafanov definitively among the leading lights of the new season.

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