Le Sacre du Printemps (to give it its usual French title) is another matter. What the Mariinsky is offering here is Millicent Hodson’s 1987 exacting reconstruction of the choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky that caused a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere — what Stravinsky himself described as “a group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down.” A hundred years later, it remains a revolutionary ballet spectacle, its braided girls in their headbands and tribal dresses and soft boots looking like American Indians. Apart from the entrance of the Sage (Vladimir Ponomarev again) in the first part and the emergence of the Chosen One (Alexandra Iosifidi) in the second, it’s all tableaux (against Nicholas Roerich’s original set designs) and patterns, girls flailing and stomping in red or white and blue (costumes also by Roerich), elders appearing in bearskins, everybody drawing strength from the earth. The initial close-ups let you see the intricate detail in the costumes and the make-up. After that, you’re ready for the big picture, but the camera doesn’t always oblige.
The performance, too, doesn’t sink into the ground like that of the Joffrey Ballet, the company for which Hodson created her reconstruction. (If you didn’t tape the Joffrey’s performance when it aired as part of PBS’s Great Performances/Dance in America series back in 1990, try watching it on YouTube.) Looking like an oversized bearded collie as he scans the sky and then kisses the ground, Ponomarev is again superb. Iosifidi has the right affect as she stands pigeon-toed and immobile, or lets her knees knock together in fear, but she doesn’t crackle in her taxing final solo, and like so many conductors of the concluding “Danse sacrale,” Gergiev (in an otherwise vivid reading) sounds as if faster or slower would be better.
Les Noces, the wedding piece that Nijinsky’s sister, Bronislava Nijinska, did for the Ballets Russes in 1923, is likewise a mixed bag. Back in 2008, when the Mariinsky performed at New York’s City Center, Alastair Macaulay wrote in the Times that “no account of Bronislava Nijinska’s Noces can ever have been worse (more misdirected in body language and accentuation) than the Kirov’s a few years ago.” I could imagine an account worse than this 2008 production, but the dancers struggle to express the angularity of Stravinsky’s rhythms, and Anna Sysoeva and Sergei Popov don’t bring anything special to the Bride and Groom. And here the camera is a worse offender. At least in Sacre, the close-ups give you an idea of how complicated Nijinsky’s patterns are. Nijinska’s movement is more homogeneous; when the camera zooms in, you just lose the sense of it all.
If you missed this screening, the good news is that two-thirds of it is available on a DVD that Bel Air Classiques released in 2009, along with an edifying 30-minute interview with Hodson and her partner Kenneth Archer concerning the reconstruction of Sacre. Why Les Noces was omitted from this release is a mystery. (In any event, the Mariinsky’s account doesn’t compare to the stunning 2001 Royal Ballet performance on Opus Arte.) But the Sacre is a landmark of ballet history, besides being a piece of choreographic genius, and the Firebird is the best performance ever to find a movie or TV screen. As for “Raising the Barre,” the Coolidge series will continue March 20 with Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstruction of The Flames of Paris for the Bolshoi Ballet and conclude May 15 with the Royal Ballet’s production of Giselle.
Coolidge Corner Theater | February 20, 2011