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Mikhailovsky Ballet


by Charlotte Kasner

April 3, 2013 -- London Coliseum, London, UK

This is the second time that I have seen this production and indeed, the second time that I have seen this as a full length work. It is a classic of the Soviet-era repertoire which no doubt would have been condemned at the time by many critics as being propagandist. Poor people overthrow tyrannical leader and win out would as likely as not be seen as some kind of Soviet bragging, whereas a production of “Fuente Ovejuna”, the play upon which “Laurencia” is based, would not.

Actually, at second viewing, I think its main failure is that it is not dark enough. It is a 20th-century ballet trapped inside a 19th-century shell. The peasants are not really downtrodden and trip around in pretty clothes, till the land and do the laundry; for all the world like Jerome K Jerome’s peasants in “Stageland.”

Osipova does her best as the eponymous heroine but she is not helped by a light score that does not really take its subject seriously until the end. Of course she is a bravura technician as well as no mean actor and there is plenty to enjoy in her dancing. She changes from a light-hearted flirt to a wronged woman and radiates joy at her wedding. Ivan Vasiliev is a bundle of testosterone as her lover Frondoso and is not called upon to do much more than jump and turn, whether in the service of the brash boyfriend or the angry young man. However, this being Vasiliev, jumping and turning is awesome and, never for the sake of it, but always in the interests of his character.

The classic form of pas de deux, solos and codas hampers the storyline and the set only comes into its own at the end. The opening scene is like the harvest in “Giselle” and doesn't really suggest Spain, but rather mittel Europe. Costumes are stunning, especially in the wedding scene, but what a mistake to put castanets in the hands of the dancers. Not only were they played badly, they were clunked and clicked in an irritating tattoo throughout the wedding dancing. Vasiliev’s castanet technique is probably the only weak thing about him but it did not enhance his solo one iota (or should that be jota!) Doubling up the castanets in the orchestra only underlined the feeble playing on stage.

I remember how exciting the film of the storming of the castle was at the end, although it was not viewed at its best when projected onto the tabs. I found myself looking forward to seeing it again, framed as it is by the projection of the original poster throughout the overture.

This ballet was first produced just three years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, when of course the tyrant triumphed, and two short years away from the disastrous onset of the Second World War. Looking at it, one could have imagined that it was 1850. I would like to see this again, but dirtied up a bit, and when I think that it could be a real stunner.

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