Moscow Festival Ballet show a tale of two halves

By Gary Clift

For the second time in three years, Sergei Radchenko’s Moscow Festival Ballet company has performed the last of the more formal shows in K-State’s McCain Auditorium series. This time former Bolshoi Ballet principal Radchenko was sharing credit for costume and set design with Russian National Theater founder Elena Radchenko.

I never feel as if I can identify the different Russian companies that annually delight McCain series ticket holders. And goodness, when there are wholesale casting changes announced before the performance, as there were last Sunday at 4, the identification of individual dancers becomes nearly impossible.

Nevertheless these talented, strong, and savvy performers gave us a very interesting show of two very different halves. The advertised business, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet ballet, is really only a little over a half-hour long. So the program began with a similar-sized dance arising from orchestrated Chopin piano music, specifically the Seventh Waltz.

Chopiniana began with the corps in traditional white, dancing before a backdrop of pillars standing behind which was a forest scene. The dancers moved far downstage and formed two circles from which two performers merged for a book-matched passage—when one circle rounded clockwise, the other went counter.

Eventually we were introduced to a male dancer in a gray vest who performed alone and with the third of three female soloists, one a little stronger, one a little more evocative, and one especially limber one specializing in long-lined gestures as she was assisted by the man.

The corps remained on stage for the duration of the dance, as they were there to represent “the embodiment of the Young Man’s dream” in this almost completely abstract performance. The dancers eventually formed a U open to the audience, through which individuals took angled runs.

This was a very pretty ballet, if not at all a narrative one.

Then, after an interval, the company re-emerged before the first of several painted flats representing Renaissance Italy. Though we all know the story, Shakespeare takes longer than thirty five minutes to tell it. The dance version, anchored by its famous musical “love theme,” provided us with a much edited re-telling.

So while story was not significant to the Chopin piece, the Romeo and Juliet was heavy with refined story, and a very dramatic story at that. The acting and the choreography (by Elena Radchenko after Marius Petipa, who was been behind much of what we think of as Russian ballet) were as melodramatic in the second set as they had been lyric in the first.

Besides, the Romeo and Juliet depended on whirling and came closer to being athletic dance than had the more deliberate and thoughtful Chopiniana.

There was some outstanding individual dancing here. The Mercutio got a lot of height and extension and seemed to contain his own energy only with some effort. Juliet’s father didn’t bother to control his emphatic character. His dungeon at discovering his daughter’s unwillingness to marry Paris was as high as his boots. And that’s saying something.

The dancers giving us the title characters were also a little more on than had been anyone we’d seen in the first set. The Juliet was what we used to think of as ballerina sized—this is shorter and lighter than the average dancer one sees these days working in the world’s best companies. This made the romantic lifts of the set much easier, one feels certain. But both she and Romeo were also skilled and concentrating.

And so the show was delightful, but it had two technically different halves with two very different kinds of librettos. The usual Swan Lake or The Nutcracker is probably more like the Romeo and Juliet half of this performance. The differences between the two dances will help me to remember this Moscow Festival Ballet outing among other McCain ballet shows. And I’ll remember it with pleasure.

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