Andris Liepa’s Les Saisons Russes of XXI Century
Le Spectre de la rose, The Firebird, Schéhérazade
16 July 2013
The novelty of Andris Liepa’s latest attempt to rekindle Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Cleopatra – Ida Rubinstein, failed to materialise due to an injured Ilze Liepa. His pick-up company does not extend to a replacement. A pity, as this is a ballet newly fashioned by Patrick de Bana, promising to reveal the milieu of 1909 Paris and the frisson of Mikhail Fokine’s original Cléopâtre – rather more tempting than the unconvincing recreations that Liepa has so far essayed.
Instead we get a hastily rearranged schedule of some familiar wares. It was a seat-of-the-pants evening (to which Diaghilev was no stranger). Recalcitrant lighting forced an unscheduled interval. Ever constant were Liepa’s announcements from the stage, dubious compensation for a lack of programmes (not even for ready money). Missing too was the orchestra who played so well on the last visit, lost en route. Boxy recordings were no compensation.
Xander Parish could hardly have imagined leaping into Vaslav Nijinsky’s role in Le Spectre de la rose when he flew The Royal Ballet nest. He showed us some beautifully pliant arms and shoulders but otherwise his was an unexceptional performance. In Yulia Makhalina’s hard-edged portrayal, Spectre was less a young girl’s reverie than an older woman’s fading memory of her first ball. It is a reading that the ballet can stand (after all Margot Fonteyn danced it that way at this address well into her autumnal days) but Makhalina’s wonderment feels artificial.
The Firebird’s modernity, distilling a full-length fairytale into one act, was overtaken practically overnight by Diaghilev’s desire to chase the new. Although in a rather approximate realisation, Liepa’s production opts for the original designs by Alexander Golovin. There’s dramatic sense in that. The enchanted princesses’ entrance into the garden is more atmospheric, we see the petrified knights return to life when Kostchei is vanquished, but trapped by Stravinsky’s programmatic score, this creaky pantomime limps.
Alexandra Timofeyeva in the title role started off with careful elegance, only gaining authority in her later scenes. As Prince Ivan, Mikhail Lobukhin was a forceful likely lad. As Kostchei, Igor Pivorovich was full of reptilian menace but the breaking of his magic egg was fluffed and his beasties were perfunctory – but so said commentators when The Firebird was first presented in London a century ago. Without Natalia Goncharova’s redesigned glowing hierarchy of domes the ending lacks weight and we are denied one of the most glorious stage images ever created. Second thoughts were better.
Parish and Makhalina do battle again in Schéhérazade as they lock diamante bustiers – a very flashy recreation of Leon Bakst’s designs, this. He is lean and elegant, lacking a dash of flamboyance to be convincing as a pantherish slave. She is perfectly attuned to the indulged princess. The character roles have gained no more depth since last presented here, all semaphore and posturing signifying nothing.
The odalisques, taken by Yulia Voronina, Valeria Pobedinskaya and Alia Khasenova, were a delight. So too were Fokine’s ensembles, an object lesson in building tension, animating Bakst’s clashing colours. But altogether, this was an evening of historical curios that lacked consistent vibrancy.