By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  January 30, 2009

This past weekend, the Kirov’s New York season culminated in a Balanchine program: Serenade, Rubies, and Ballet Imperial. The company’s 2002 New York Jewels was an eye opener. Marcia Siegel in this paper observed that “in stepping into this choreography of Balanchine’s, the Kirov’s members seemed to be learning a different way to dance.” Laura Jacobs in the New Criterion wrote, “To see the company in this looming Balanchine after nine days of story ballets was to see them with nothing on but their dancing. And what a sight.” Even Macaulay in this past Tuesday’s Times described as a triumph the company’s “galvanized, glowing 2000–2002 accounts of Balanchine’s Rubies, and to a lesser extent, the rest of Jewels.”

What I saw in that 2002 Jewels was a company that stretched and softened what had become the New York City Ballet hard line without sacrificing sex or, for the most part, speed. This Balanchine might have lacked the élan of the Paris Opera Ballet’s, but it harbored greater innocence. That impression was confirmed by the first three movements of Serenade Saturday night. Titian-haired Ekaterina Kondaurova and Danila Korsuntsev made for a large, gracious Waltz Girl and Boy, she with her authoritative upper body and he with his easy tours jetés. The dancing had volume and extension and effortless lifts and pillowy phrasing; flipping turns were light-hearted rather than show-offy, and Ekaterina Osmolkina’s Russian Girl was a jubilant presence. There was even a puckeringly astringent traversal of Tchaikovsky’s cloying second-movement Waltz from Mikhail Agrest and the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre; it elicited bittersweet waltzing from Kondaurova and Korsuntsev. And the religioso feel in the women’s-mysteries opening of the Tema Russo third movement led to gamboling that could have been inspired by the fairy footing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

RUBIES: This one still needs a shot of “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

But it all vanished faster than Nick Bottom’s dream. The women did not let their hair down for the Elegy, and notwithstanding Arlene Croce’s dismay at this 1977 development in Serenade’s history, it signals that the Waltz Girl — who’s just been deserted — is moving into a different realm. The Dark Angel and the Elegy Man — Daria Vasnetsova and Alexander Sergeev — strode on with little gravitas, and between them they could hardly manage her 720-degree turn on pointe: it wobbled fearfully. In Boston Ballet’s Serenade, the Russian Girl flashes a warning look at the audience before rushing on to join the other three, her hair flying behind her; Melanie Atkins could compress the entire ballet into that one look. Osmolkina hardly bothered. The Apollo-like conjoining of the Elegy Man with the three women never cast its spell, Sergeev being too light to anchor it and Kondaurova losing her thread. As she was borne off (into the light?), she didn’t even do the signature backbend, only tilted back her head.

Sunday afternoon’s performance was better and not. Victoria Tereshkina affected an unusually somber Waltz Girl, frozen in contemplation at the end of the Sonatina, meeting her fate with head bowed at the end — and bending deeply as she went off. Kondaurova, now the Dark Angel, weighted the Elegy and was steady in her big turn. Back as the Elegy Man, Alexander Sergeev was marginally better, but Nadezhda Gonchar’s Russian Girl had little nuance and strayed ahead of the beat, and Yevgeny Ivanchenko labored where Korsuntsev flew.

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