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Mariinksy Ballet graces BAM with ‘Chopin: Dances for Piano’

January 29, 2015 By Benjamin Preston Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Mariinsky Ballet performed "Chopiniana" at BAM as part of a program titled “Chopin: Dances for Piano.” Photos by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy of BAM
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The Mariinsky Ballet performed three different interpretations of Frédéric Chopin’s music last week at a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) titled Chopin: Dances for Piano. The two-and-a-half-century-old ballet company, from St. Petersburg, Russia, is renowned as one of the world’s finest, and its performance was an accordingly skillful portrayal of the Polish composer’s romantic piano pieces.

The first of the trio, “Chopiniana,” was created in-house at Mariinsky in 1908, by Michel Fokine. At the time, Fokine was in his late 20s, and had already been teaching at the ballet school associated with Mariinsky (then known as the Imperial Russia Ballet) for six years. It is one of his best known works, and hints at Fokine’s affinity for classical Greek and Egyptian art.

Backed up by an unamplified piano — as were the other pieces — Mariinsky’s modern-day performance of Fokine’s 1908 work was a trip back to a time when Classical romantic themes touched nearly all forms of art, literature and architecture. The set, which could have been the backdrop for any number of early 19th century romantic paintings, was brought to life by a cast of white clad slyphs, who in turn framed several female soloists and a young poet wearing white and back country garb.

The second selection in the performance, “Without,” was choreographed in 2011 by Benjamin Millepied, a 37-year-old Frenchman who has been Director of Dance at the Paris Opera Ballet since October. Millepied said in an online interview in 2011 that although Chopin’s waltzes and mazurkas had been popular fare for choreography in the past, he decided to focus on preludes and etudes, which had a different feel. The overall tone of his piece, which he said were based upon the ups and downs of romantic relationships, were often somber. But it also included a light moment or two, such as a scene that seemed to mimic the whimsical confusion of night club dance partner swapping.

Millepied’s colored-keyed costuming accented the modern feel of the piece. The five couples in the cast wore outfits to match their partners in red, orange, green, blue and violet, making it possible to imagine what the crew aboard the USS Enterprise on “Star Trek” would have looked like had they all been dancing on the bridge set.

The final piece of the show, “In the Night,” was a return to the 19th century ballroom. Jerome Robbins, of Broadway fame, choreographed it in 1970, set to the music of four Chopin nocturnes. Combined with richly expressive body movements, it was the very definition of romantic. The performance of Yekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko, in particular, elicited gasps of admiration from across the audience on Sunday. 

But then, one would have to be made of stone for the deep emotional quality of Chopin’s nocturnes, blended with the stunning beauty of the Mariinsky troupe’s dancing not to penetrate. Ballet, when done well, is to stage art what poetry is to literature; emotional abstraction wreathed in graceful movement and musicality. In other words, true nourishment for the soul.


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