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Jessica Abrams
Music and Dance Reviews
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Performance Reviews
Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Northridge, CA

Russian National Ballet Theatre Soars

by Jessica Abrams
February 16, 2015
Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330
(818) 677-3000
In 1885, the famous Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi performed in St. Petersburg and created a sensation with her forceful, energetic style. Up until then, the softer, more delicate French style dominated Russian ballet, but between Zucchi, Enrico Cecchetti, and a handful of others, the style of Russian ballet as we now know it – a combination of fiery athleticism and delicate, fluid port de bras – was born.

The Russian-born Vaganova method, which was the codified fusion of the French and Italian schools, emphasized training dancers to use their body in its entirety to create a harmony of movement and greater expressive range. Unlike some of the companies that sprang, either directly or indirectly from that school – the New York City Ballet, with its movement initiating from the extremities and its more angular port de bras comes to mind – the focus was in building strength in the torso, allowing complete fluidity of the upper body and arms.

This fusion of balletic yin and yang was glaringly apparent in the gala performance of the Russian National Ballet Theatre last Saturday night at the Valley Performing Arts Center, on the campus of California State University, Northridge. Primarily a touring company, RNBT is dedicated to performing both traditional and new works, with dancers from the upper ranks of age-old Russian ballet companies. Saturday night's performance, a tasting menu of excerpts from classics such as "The Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella" and "Swan Lake" did not disappoint, leaving the audience with a sample of the brilliant range of artistry and skill that is the very epitome of Russian ballet.

The Adagio of Four Cavaliers proved a nice warm-up for the robust program and a splendid introduction to the regal presence of ballerina Aleaksandra Krukova. Krukova allowed herself to be squired by the four cavaliers, but never outdone. Her technique was a combination of solidity and voluptuous line, not to mention a keen adherence to the Russian ballet tradition in which a sense of moderation in service to the story and time period is always maintained. Still, one notes the slight flip of the wrist as the arm arches back, around and up – a sort of homage to a more bravura style we have come to associate with Russian ballet.

The "Cinderella" Act III Adagio exemplified the fluid style of the modern ballets. Maria Klyueva's velvet bourrees oozed across the stage and her simple, low front attitude once again showed a deference to the style. The lifts were heartbreaking in their simplicity, particularly the last, where she curled in her partner's arms as he slowly rotated. The "Romeo and Juliet" adagio was similarly moving, as much for the performers' acting as for their dancing, with steps as liquid as warm milk.

The tone changed once again with an excerpt from "Don Quixote". Krukova was the perfect Kitri – self-assured, seductive, charming and playful, equally as home on the ground as in the air. Her flourish of the wrist was perfectly timed with the music, her command of the role and the steps (and the fan) nothing less than expert. Azamat Askarov's lithe leaps were a good balance to her earthiness, his legs scissoring through the air in his leaps.

The program built to a crescendo with selections from "Paquita" as its final hurrah (with a break in the bravura with Olga Gudkova's haunting "Dying Swan"). In Petipa's adaption, the story of a young gypsy girl during the time of the occupation of Spain by Napoleon's army discovers, through a series of misadventures, that she is actually of noble birth. The "Paquita" grand pas classique was featured in the farewell gala of Enrico Cecchetti in 1902, where all of the leading ballerinas of the Maryinsky Theatre performed their favorite solos from various ballets. Thus, the tradition of including an entire suite of solos for various ballerinas began, a tradition which is still in place today. Indeed, one after another, the ballerinas performed their solos and by the end, the entire company seemed to be on stage. A festival of energy, color and breathtaking skill, this was Russian ballet as we imagine it: unabashed confidence and unparalleled athleticism. But had the Russian National Ballet Theatre not spanned the range, from elegance to dramatic to romantic to sheer, explosive power, their mastery of such a style would have been less appreciated. What we saw Saturday night was a rock-solid foundation that allowed for the lyrical, dramatic, and the bravura to come together all at once. With a few wrist flips thrown in, of course.
Russian National Ballet Theatre's Tatiana Chernobrovkina and Dmitry Zababourin in 'The Sleeping Beauty.' Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre.

Russian National Ballet Theatre's Tatiana Chernobrovkina and Dmitry Zababourin in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre.

Russian National Ballet Theatre's in 'Don Quixote.' Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre.

Russian National Ballet Theatre's in "Don Quixote." Photo courtesy of Russian National Ballet Theatre.

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