By Gene Reznikov
To preface this review of Russian National Ballet Theatre performance at the Nazareth College Arts Center, I would like pay tribute to Cathy Whalen, former box office manager and a great friend who sadly passed away not too long ago. I am certain that Cathy would have enjoyed this performance and I am sure she was watching with the rest of us.
Before I give my thoughts regarding the performance, I’d like to say that I am not a ballet aficionado, I don’t know the proper dance terminology, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pirouette and marionette! With that said, I can’t begin to describe to you the appreciation and respect I have gained for ballet having watched this performance. I have always heard the praises of Russian ballet, from my mother who is a fond admirer. I was born and raised in beautiful St. Petersburg, Russia – home of the renowned Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet & Opera Theater. I remember watching old VHS tapes of Michail Baryshnikov and Russian ballet performances. But as the case with most things, as a child I didn’t truly understand or appreciate the level of skill or the grace of ballet.
Nowhere is the tradition of ballet stronger then in Russia. Russian dancers have received applause and accolades across the world ever since Sergei Diaghilev brought his ballet out of Russia to Paris and then world-wide in the early years of the 20th Century. At that time brilliant and legendary dancers like Nijinsky, Pavlova, and Karsavina graced the international stage and made the Russian School of Ballet the best in the world. During the dark times of the Cold War, the American people were unfortunately limited to seeing the wide array of Russian talent, but lucky enough to enjoy the brilliance of legendary dancers and rare defectors like Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev. Fortunately times have changed and today all the excitement, beauty and joy of Russian ballet have been brought back to the world. This show was evident proof of that fact.
The Russian National Ballet was founded in Moscow in the late 1980s during “perestroika” – a time of change, of newly gained freedom, and democracy. It is one of the few new Russian ballet companies dedicated to the timeless tradition of classical Russian Ballet and today they tour all over the world. The “Chopiniana,” the first piece the audience was introduced to grew out of Chopin’s music. It is plotless, and is considered by many to be the most romantic and mystical ballet. It is a poetic dance set in a forest-like setting with beautiful nymphs, created out of a young man’s imagination. Nothing happens, but the picturesque ballerinas, their gorgeous movements and the beautiful music of Chopin takes you out of the real world and into the world of beauty, miracle, inspiration and fairy tale. In this moment you really believe that “beauty will save the world” as Dostoevsky once said.
“Romeo and Juliet,” the second piece of the night, is another masterpiece that most of the American audience is familiar with. Shakespeare’s tragic love story was originally adapted in 1930 into ballet by the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, whose music varied from powerful in one scene to tender in another, and it made this performance unforgettable. The colorful costumes of the performers, as well as the efficient yet emotional way in which the story was told captured its meaning brilliantly. Every movement was delicate yet powerful, and precise – so precise! From the beautiful backdrops to every scene, it was a world class performance! Bravo to Russian ballet!