Giannandrea Poesio

Mariinsky Ballet | 13 August 2011

Balanchine, Russian-style

It’s somewhat surprising that there are many people who are still amazed by the Mariinsky Ballet’s sparkling response to the choreography of George Balanchine. After all, it is well known that the father of modern American ballet, born Georgi Melitonovic Balanchivadze, had been trained at the Imperial Ballet School, from which developed the artistic principles that have long informed the Mariinsky Ballet’s tradition.

It is true that once in the United States Balanchine reworked those principles with movement ideas that were typical of the Americana he felt so attracted by. Yet all his creations remained unmistakably rooted in the old Russian school. Such historical/artistic affinity has been central to the Mariinsky’s stagings of his work since it first tackled the Balanchinian repertoire a few years back. Am I the only one to remember a superbly sparkling rendition of Symphony in C at the London Coliseum?

The ‘all-American’ triple bill presented last week by the Russian company as part of its current London season confirmed that choreographic empathy and stylistic affinities are still there. The programme opened with Scotch Symphony, one of those colourful Balanchinian forays into western exoticism, and a perfect example of how he could choreograph anything he liked without ever slipping into triteness or bad taste. Indeed, at first sight the ballet looks a tad twee and tacky, and inevitably conjures up images from the Romantic ballet La Sylphide or, worse, the musical Brigadoon.

The fact that the music is by Mendelssohn and has nothing to do with real Scottish lore adds to the hybrid nature of a work that draws on stereotypical iconography and has its main means of expression in Russian ballet.

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