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Subject: "Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet's Snow Maiden" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2381
Reading Topic #2381

28-12-01, 12:55 PM (GMT)
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"Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet's Snow Maiden"
   Has anybody else seen this? I was in London for Christmas and saw the evening performance on Boxing Day. I've always been interested in Russian folktales, so I was curious - and it makes a change from Nutcracker.

The Bourmeister choreography I found banal and repetitive on the whole, as most of the reviews have said. The Snow Maiden, (Ekaterina Safonova) bourreed and fluttered very prettily, but she didn't do much else until the 2nd act pas de deux. She also smiled glassily, which was a bit irritating. However, she is Kirov trained, tiny and pretty, and she danced her limited and somewhat coy steps beautifully. Kupava, the girl rejected by Mizgir in favour of the Snow Maiden, was danced with a certain steely strength by Kadria Amirova. Mizgir, the leading man, was Victor Dik, handsome but a bit heavy. The corps of Snowflakes (delicate and tutu-ed) and dancing peasants (hearty) was well-disciplined. The best male dancing came from Alexander Dashevsky as the Wandering Minstrel/Clown Skomorokh - this was good old-fashioned Soviet show-off stuff with a folk-dance twist, energetically performed.

The Tchaikovsky musical mish-mash was as shallow as the choreography, but well played, and you can see the orchestra in the RFH, which is nice. The acting throughout was not very convincing.

The saving grace of this production, I felt, was the way it looked, though I felt a bit cheated that the much-mocked blond wig and electric blue eyeshadow on one of the male characters were nowhere to be seen. The icy, frosty decor was very beautiful, the toy-theatre scene changes (fairly successful the night I was there) were simple and attractive - the Russian village set in its frame of frost looked just like a picture on a lacquer box. The costumes for the villagers progressed (with a few animal heads and red noses along the way) from sober fur-trimmed jackets to brilliant springtime festive wear and crowns of flowers. At this point, of course, the Snow Maiden disappeared, leaving Mizgir to grieve over her crown of flowers. My son said he saw her sneaking out under a sheet, but I didn't. I think she melted.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: The Snow Maiden 26th Dec 2001 7.30 pm Suzanne McCarthy 28-12-01 1
     RE: The Snow Maiden 26th Dec 2001 7.30 pm Richard Jones 28-12-01 2

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Suzanne McCarthy

28-12-01, 05:08 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: The Snow Maiden 26th Dec 2001 7.30 pm"
In response to message #0
   This is the season of the ubiquitous Nutcracker. Impresarios all over the world are raking in the money as little girls’ hearts are won over by Clare, the Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy. But those of us, who find it all a little cloying and repetitive, may wish for something else. Why, for example, is La Fille Mal Gardee not staged at this time of year? It would make a wonderful pantomime substitute, and the clog dance by the Widow Simone would show the Widow Twankie a thing or two. No such luck! This year, predictably, both the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet are dancing the Nutcracker.

But there is another ballet company in town, and, while it offers seasonal fare, it is, thank goodness, something new. The Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet and Orchestra, basically the Moscow city ballet company, in their London debut, are also dancing to Tchaikovsky, but this time selections of his music have been pieced together for their production of the Snow Maiden.

The key to the Snow Maiden story is a dramatic device used on countless occasions from Clint Eastwood films to Matthew Bourne’s Car Man. It is the mysterious stranger who wanders into town throwing the established order into disarray. The Snow Maiden dances into the land of humans, captures the heart of one of them, although he is loved by another, and she has no real heart of her own. He then loses her, and the foundations of his own life, to the rays of the sun and the melting of the ice and snow.

This ballet company has not incorporated the name Stanislavsky in its title for nothing. Their technical skills are as fine as one would expect from a Russian company, but these have been enhanced by the application of “method acting”. Last night’s performances must have been given by the second cast as most of the major roles were taken by soloists. Having said that, they were superb. Especially good was Ekaterine Safonova who played the Snow Maiden. Her portrayal combined a sense of fragility (the snow Maiden is after all an insubstantial, magical being), with wonderment, joyfulness and innocence and more than a dash of the minx. No wonder all the boys in town are desperate to dance with her even if she leaves them as cold as ice.

Of the two lovers, Kadria Amirova, as the girl Kupava, and Victor Dik, as the boy Mizgir, danced a soft and loving duet in the first act. While beautiful, it went on a bit too long and did not have a great variety of movement for Mizgir. This was more than made up for in the various village scenes. Here the capabilities of the dancers, particularly the men, were displayed as they stormed across the stage high kicking and twirling. One of the best of these was Alexander Dashevsky, only listed as a member of the corps, who danced the wild, dangerous part of Skomorokh, the wander minstrel-clown. Combining acrobatics and classical ballet steps, he and his cohort of three other boys, dashed about the stage in a frenetic explosion of energy.

This ballet is not a classic. But this company treated it with respect and not something cobbled together for the festive season, when everyone is desperate by Boxing Day to get out of the house and be entertained. Earlier in the run, reviewers had complained that the scenery changes were less than smooth. They have now rectified any problems, and the sets are lovely. The Snow Maiden’s home is a fantasy country composed of crystal snowflakes, while the village has the strong feel of the Russian steppes. Similarly, the costumes (except for that of Father Frost who looks like he is wearing a bathrobe) are well designed. Especially beautiful are the tutus and headgear worn by the Snow Maiden and the accompanying snowflakes. Appropriately, the image that is left in the mind at the end is of the 20 girl “snowflakes”, their hands continuously fluttering as they fall gently to earth.

The audience for last night’s performance was respectable, even if the house was not full. The Snow Maiden will be presented until 2nd January. From the 4th to the 12th they will be performing Swan Lake in an interpretation that is new to London. On the evidence of the Snow Maiden, the Moscow Stanislavsky’s interpretation of that classic is not to be missed.

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Richard Jones

28-12-01, 09:16 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: The Snow Maiden 26th Dec 2001 7.30 pm"
In response to message #1
   LAST EDITED ON 28-12-01 AT 09:57 PM (GMT)

LAST EDITED ON 28-12-01 AT 09:36 PM (GMT)

I saw the matinée on 27th Dec; Anastasia Pershenkova was the Snow Maiden, Natalia Schelokova was Kupava, and Dmitry Erlykin danced the role of Mizgir. These three are soloists with the company, so no principals on show for this performance. All reviewers have inevitably commented on technical problems, but it has to be said that the RFH has been presenting ballet at Christmas for very many years, and the South Bank management ought to invest a bit more in providing visiting companies with the facilities they need. The performance area looks as it is – makeshift, complete with noisy curtain tracks. However, the gremlins noted by the earlybird reviewers seem to have been overcome, and the technical limitations of the place just have to be accepted for the moment. As the venerable reviewer from the FT might have said, honour to the company for accepting the challenge posed by the RFH.

The opening scene in the Land of Frost is beautifully designed. Crystal-like structures frame the stage, and the lighting helps to create the illusion that this is the land of sharp Winters; nothing to do with the muggy dampness that you left outside the hall. The snowflakes present a picture of delicate neatness: a good-looking and disciplined corps with some rewarding choreography to start us off. Our Snow Maiden was poised and assured, while conveying the strangeness of this ultimately insubstantial character. At times she is required to stand absolutely still on pointe for a long period; like another reviewer, I found this an effective metaphor for her strange, soulless nature.

It is interesting that other reviewers have commented on an apparently under-powered performance of the role of Mizgir. I felt the same way, initially, about Dmitry, our Honoured Artist of Russia (for that is what he is). On reflection, I wonder if the tradition of this company (and its Stanislavsky-inspired background) would require this suddenly-besotted fly-by-night to temper his dance energy and leave the high octane stuff to the laddish lads, rather than taking on the virtuoso stuff himself? It will be interesting to see how the same company will approach Swan Lake.

The piece has its shortcomings as an entity because of the way it has been assembled, with chunks of Tchaikovsky welded together as accompaniment to a piece that combines the elements of fairyland, energetic Russian peasants, and a visit from the Tsar. The Russian tradition of story-telling is seen here in a choreography made when the tradition of socialist realism still had its effect. However, there has been an attempt to tighten the piece up a bit since it was premiered by the LFB at the RFH in 1961. Originally the ballet was in 3 acts, but the first two have now been compressed into one. This makes the whole feel a little unbalanced. The second act seems to end abruptly; Kupava has lost her man (despite Schelokova giving her rival looks to kill), Mizgir has lost everything, and the happy peasants are off to till the soil; heroes of Soviet labour, no doubt! In the original story, Mizgir throws himself into a lake in his despair (they seem to like doing that in Russian tales). In this production, Mizgir leaves the stage to do just that while the peasants are busy being jolly and generally holding our attention. I would have liked to have seen the whole thing come full circle, with something made of Mizgir frozen and lifeless at the end. The jollity accompanying approaching Spring needs to be about two-thirds of the way through the second act – i.e. appropriate to the Golden Section. The whole thing would then feel more balanced; as it is, it feels to have an odd structure.

However, having said all of that, this is good seasonal fare. It is a delight on the eye, the folk dance element is an energetic and earthy contrast to the delicacy of the snowflakes, and you can relax knowing that, for a change, you can read into the story just as much as you like; no equivalent here of dodgy interpretations of Drosselmeyer. A refreshing change!

PS The programme is informative and attractively presented -apart, that is, from the grim-looking collection of mug-shots of the members of the corps de ballet; it looks as if they have been lining up at the photo-booth at Moscow Bus Station for a job lot!

PPS Strange coincidence; Fyodor Stravinsky (father of the composer) created the role of Father Frost in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Snow Maiden”. Igor Stravinsky was so immersed in the Russian folk tradition, it is a pity he didn’t write a score for a Christmas ballet; there is such a shortage of music of quality for story ballets suitable for this season.

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