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A Festival of Russian Ballet
Artistic director: Gediminas Taranda

at Opera House, Wellington
15 Nov 2013
[2.5 hrs]

Reviewed by Ann Hunt, 18 Nov 2013

The Imperial Russian Ballet directed by Gediminas Taranda, tours New Zealand annually and is obviously much appreciated by the general public, if the large audience and ecstatic reception they received on opening night is anything to go by.

The Company contains some extremely fine dancers and a strong corps de ballet. Technique here is not the issue. What disappoints are overall poor production standards, including over-amplified poorly recorded music and incomprehensible programming.  The dancers and Ballet itself deserve better.   

The lengthy programme, (two and a half hours,) opened with a heavily abridged version of The Nutcracker, (music, Tchaikovsky, choreography, V.Vainonen and G.Taranda.) At first a little nervous, Lina Seveliova was a gentle, delicate Clara. She has a lovely arabesque and good placing, but needs to relate more to her partner. The elegant Nariman Bekzhanov, with his prodigious technique and exemplary partnering, made a noble Nutcracker Prince. The corps de ballet danced well, but were hampered by distracting, cumbersome hooped skirts in the Waltz of the Flowers. The soloists all danced with élan, but especially Malika Tokkozhina and Denis Simon who sparkled in the Chinese, and dashing Alexey Gorbatenko in the Russian. 

Bolero, (music, Ravel, choreography, N. Androsov,) is a powerful, if somewhat dated work, about the power of a Godhead, (Elena Colesnicenco,) which must hold strong resonance for the Russian Company. The costumes are dramatic and stunning.

The tireless cast danced with commitment, particularly an impassioned Bekzhanov (Priest) and Colesnicenco.

Highlights of the ten variations includedDon Quixote, especially from Alexandru Balan (Basilio) and (possibly – there was no cast sheet, again!) Constantin Tcaci. Charismatic Principal Anna Pashkova's passionate Ne Me Quittes Pas, (music, Jacques Brel, choreography, E. Bogdanovitch.) Bekzhanov's show-stopping brilliance in the  Le Corsaire - Pas De Deux, (music, Adam, choreography, Perrot and Petipa.)

The less said the better of Carmen Suite, (music, Bizet/R. Shchedrin, choreography, Alicia Alonso/Taranda,) and Homitcaia's somewhat anaesthetised Dying Swan, (music, Saint-Saens, choreography, Fokine.) A work best left to history.

On the plus side were Gorbatenko's sensational Gopak, (music, V. Solovyov-Sedoi,) and surprisingly, Taranda's Melbourne Cup-inspired The Dance of the Horses, (music, Rossini.)

The great pas de deux from Giselle, Act Two, (music, Adam, choreography, Coralli/Perrot,) is really not mixed-bill material. Bekzhanov's was splendid and Seveliova beautiful. But she has still to develop the role's emotional reach. Admittedly, this could be difficult, if you've just finished dancing a horse...)

This was followed, naturally, by Can Can Surprise, (music, Offenbach, choreography, Taranda.) Every cliché in the book, amusing, and the audience's favourite. You pays your money and you takes your choice. 

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