The New York Times,
Monday, November 1, 2004
From Russia, With a Hearty Dose of Eclecticism
By ANNA K1SSELGOFF
As far as eclectic evenings go, a program on Saturday night billed as the gala concert of the weeklong Russian Nights Festival was more scattershot than most. The obvious draw at Alice Tully Hall was Anastasia Volochkova, the ballerina fired from the Bolshoi Ballet in September 2003 after a brouhaha over her weight and since reinstated (albeit demoted).
There were also some unexpected moments. The festival's producer, Stas Namin, a grandson of the prominent Bolshevik Anastas Mikoyan, presented Arthur Mitchell, director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, with an arts award that has been given to, among others, Sharon Stone and Ray Bradbury. Mr. Namin also said Russian-American members of the American military who had served in Iraq were in the audience and asked them to rise for applause.
Onstage, the mixed program included some of Russia's leading musicians and opera singers, as well as Lori Belilove, the American dancer who specializes in Isadora Duncan's repertory. With its call for revolution, a solo that Duncan had choreographed during her pro-Bolshevik period was not exactly a hit with a largely emigre audience that had lived under Communism.
To those in the know there was something poignant about the pas de deux that Ms. Volochkova and Evge-ny Ivanchenko danced from "The Phantom Ball," a 1995 ballet by Dmitri Briantsev. Mr. Briantsev, the 57-year-old director of Moscow's second major ballet company, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Ballet, has not been seen since he left his hotel in Prague in July. The Czech police are investigating his disappearance.
The Russian Nights Festival, a celebration of Russian culture that ended yesterday, went strangely unheralded in New York but included more than worthwhile poetry readings, concerts and presentations of early Soviet films.
Saturday's gala was both a classical variety show and a thinly disguised showcase for Ms. Volochkova, who appeared six times on the program. All the other artists, except accompanists and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, which opened and closed the evening, performed once.
Ms. Volochkova, looking big-boned but svelte, did battle with a floor cloth that was obviously more geared to moving grand pianos in and out than to dancing on toe. She slipped three times but never fell.
Americans have seen her to better advantage, beginning with her United States debut in 1995 with the Kirov Ballet from St. Petersburg at the Metropolitan Opera. A few years later she appeared as a guest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the Vaganova Academy, the Kirov school, where she was trained. After moving to the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1998, she has been seen at the Kennedy Center in Washington with that company.
Obviously, she is not an unknown quantity. She is an excellently trained dancer, a product of the Vaganova school, who could be even better if she were not so careless about her feet, often sloppy. She would benefit from consistent coaching.
Just as obviously, she is a headstrong performer and one interested in creativity. This program included contemporary pieces, including "Angel," by a Washington choreographer, Dana Tai Soon.
At the Kirov Ballet, Ms. Volochkova faced competition from Ulyana Lopatkina, Diana Vishneva and Svetlana Zakharova (now at the Bolshoi). To say her career was blocked by more talented dancers is too simple. She chose to be a dancer less concerned with classical purity than with expressing her glamorous persona within a classical style.
A change in style at the Kirov might have pushed her in that direction. She was one of the young ballerinas in her Kirov generation nicknamed basketball players because they were so tall. Suddenly the emphasis was on ultra-high leg extensions and kicks. These were still very much part of Ms. Volochkova's style on Saturday although they are less encouraged in the Bolshoi.
The evening began with a wonderfully vigorous account of Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence" by the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Misha Rakhlevsky.
Mr. Namin and his American partner Matthew Rich described the "Tower Award" given to Mr. Mitchell as a tribute to arts and letters. It is named after the Constructivist tower envisioned by Vladimir Tatlin in 1920 but never built in the Soviet Union. The avant-garde symbolized by Tatlin was represented in the films and poetry of the festival (another will be held in Los Angeles from April 3 to April 10). But there was hardly a whiff of experiment on this program except inAlexei Arkhipovsky's balalaika solo, full of impressive irony and virtuosity.
The classical music on the program, however, was performed with individuality. Ekaterina Mechetina threw her head back dramatically after playing a piano version of " Largo al factotum" from "The Barber of Seville." The Bolshoi soprano Makvala Kasrashvili sang arias from "Tosca" and "Cavalleria Rusticana," accompanied by Liya Mogilevskaya on the piano. Later, the Kirov Opera soprano Ekaterina Solovieva was also accompanied by Ms. Mogilevskaya in arias from "Iolanta" and "Adriana Lecouvreur."
Ms. Volochkova's offerings were thin soup. Vladimir Vassiliev's illfated " Swan Lake," which he staged when he was director of the Bolshoi in the late 1990's, featured the ballet's Russian dance on toe. In this instance it looked disjointed.
A change of pace came with the tenor Andrei Ilyushnikov as the abandoned Chinese prince in Lehar's " Land of Smiles." Ms. Volochkova returned with Mr. Ivanchenko, the Kirov dancer who was usually imported to partner her at the Bolshoi, in a Sovietized version of the tambourine dance from "Esmeralda." Mr. Ivanchenko was always gallant if rarely acknowledged by his partner, who was in fine technical form. Her preparations, however, for pirouettes were too obvious and her fouettes had no shape.
Ms. Belilove, an excellent Duncan dancer, needed a more welcoming context. Dressed in red, she moved from bondage to liberation with a fist raised in "Revolutionary Etude." The Scriabin music was played on the piano by Matthew Ward.
Ms. Volochkova came back with a fine rendition of Michel Fokine's "Dying Swan," stretching her body to the utmost. Musical virtuosity then came to the fore with the violinist Sergei Stadler, accompanied by Yulia Stadler and with Boris Andrianov on the cello.
"Angel," Ms. Soon's solo for Ms. Volochkova, to an arrangement of Schubert's "Ave Maria," had the dancer moving in and out of cruciform positions when not swirling in a capelike fabric upon which she came to rest: odd. A brief number by Paul Chalmer to an Edith Piaf recording did Ms. Volochkova no favors with its flexed feet and blandness.
It was a relief to see the unity of Mr. Briantsev's neo-Romantic duet to Chopin from "The Phantom Ball." Full of embraces, lifts and rolls on the floor, it was strongly performed by Ms. Volochkova and Mr. Ivanchenko.