Russian National Ballet

By Hal de Becker

Fortunately for local dance lovers, and thanks to UNLV’s Performing Arts Center, the Russian National Ballet included Las Vegas on its current USA tour.

Nearly 1000 patrons attended the company’s enjoyable performance of classical ballet at Ham Hall.The program consisted of choreography by Fokine and (according to the playbill) Petipa, drama by Shakespeare and the music of Chopin and Tchaikovsky.

Interestingly, Petipa, creator of numerous masterworks including “Swan Lake,” was credited for the program’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet. Being unable to recall such a work by Petipa, I researched the possibility but found no attribution of it to that legendary choreographer.Anyway, it was passable, whoever choreographed it.

The story, presented in two scenes, was, of course, an abridged version of the play.Still, it succeeded in bringing out most of the significant aspects of the familiar plot: Romeo and Juliet falling in love despite the rivalry between their two families; Romeo’s killing of Juliet’s kinsman, Tybalt, in a duel; Juliet’s defiance of her parents; the intimate bedroom scene between the two lovers; and ultimately their tragic deaths.

The ballet was choreographed to taped selections of music by Tchaikovsky.The arrangement was tasteful, well suited to the action, and the recording seamless – which is not always the case when different musical compositions are combined.

Maria Klueva made a youthful and pretty Juliet.Her dancing was soft and lyrical and her acting, if not heartrending, was persuasive. Her Romeo was Dmitry Schsemelinin whose exaggerated angst and flinging arms often made his performance seem shallow.His dancing had its most effective moments in a solo when, beneath Juliet’s balcony, he expressed Romeo’s desire for her.

The best male acting and dancing came from Alexander Daev as Tybalt.His menacing hatred of Romeo was chilling as was the sadistic delight with which he lured him into their duel after having killed his best friend.As Juliet’s father, Dmitri Romanov was especially powerful in the scene when, enraged by his daughter’s refusal to marry the man he’s chosen for her, his temper burst upon her like a violent storm.

Fokine’s first version of “Chopiniana,” set to orchestrated piano pieces of Frederic Chopin, had its premiere in 1907 in Russia.It was then more a series of dances than the mood-piece it became in1908 when he revised it with increased emphasis on the lyrical lines and movements typical of ballet’s Romantic period.(He revised it again in Paris in 1909 when it was re-titled the familiar “Les Sylphides.”)

The Russian company’s performance of the ballet was flawed by the lighting and taped music: the one too bright, the other thin, shrill and in need of a new recording; at times the music seemed quite fast which may have caused some of the dancers to be overly vigorous and break the poetic ‘spell’.

The curtain opened to an eye filling scene with one male and three female soloists posed center stage and flanked by sixteen ladies of the corps de ballet, eight on each side, attired in long diaphanous white skirts.

Indeed, it was the corps de ballet whose dancing was the most impressive. Their movements, poses and port de bras (arm positions) were uniform, their pointe work clean and quiet, and their temperament appropriately ethereal. The dances were devised for solos, small groups and the full company, and ranged from sensitive adagios to lively waltzes.

For dancers, and other performers, one-night-stand touring is especially hard work.At the performance’s conclusion all the members of the Russian troupe appeared sincerely touched by the standing ovation they received – and had given their best to deserve.