Attending Program A at BAM on Thursday, February, 25 was like being transported to another space and time closer to St Petersburg, Russia. I felt taken back in time to a bitter communist Russia, all while walking from the two Train into Brooklyn on my way to Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ballet, Russia's National art form, is a representation of patriotism and pride. Ballet is about taking pride in oneself and audience members dressed for the occasion despite protests with signage outside of the theater. While musicians and dancers prepare backstage, out front several protesters shouted, "out, out, out" in Russian attacking Mariinsky's Artistic Director, Valery Gergiev, for supporting the Russian president Vladimir Putin, while BAM took no action during the demonstration.
Brushing off the initial shock of the cold winds and loud, angry Russian voices outside, inside held the warm crimson-cushioned seating. The regal red curtains and golden accents hold an unparalleled architecture of the Theatre, reflecting the many Russian audience members. Seeing the Mariinsky Ballet is a once in a lifetime experience for dancers and non dancers alike.
The humming of the orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, warming up coupled with the mounds of women in fur coats and gentlemen in suits made the spine sit up a taller in your seat. Several American Ballet Theatre dancers came to watch and support their colleague, Diana Vishneva, as she danced the role of Carmen in the Carmen Suite.
Carmen Suite was originally choreographed in 1967, for Maya Plisetskaya. Alberto Alonso's story ballet oozes with lust versus love and passion in a love triangle between Carmen, Don José and the bullfighter Escamillo, all set around the bullfights in Seville, Spain during the 1820s. The role of Carmen was created for, Maya Plisetskaya, Soviet-born and a Spanish citizen, and danced by Diana Vishneva of American Ballet Theatre, who is also Russian. With such flare and newness in honor of Maya, Diana was a goddess, eye candy of the highest standard, and a phenomenal actress beyond her insatiable classical lines and dazzling movement quality. The irreverent male character in white, danced by Alexander Sergeev, was introduced with electrifying form. The corps de ballet chimed in as a fun section of a clapping Deck of Cards. The syncopations of an all-seated cast shuffled along with foot stomping and hand clapping that began to orchestrate a female pas de deux.
The many pas de deux between the free-spirited Carmen and the uptight Don José redefined temptation that challenges the innocent appeal of classical ballet with flexed feet, sitting deep in the hip joint in parallel positions. The choreography was an indication of the 1960's and the influence of American Jazz dance and quite possibly choreographer Bob Fosse.
The role of Fate was danced with the infinite lines of the classic ballerina body. It was almost unreal. Sleek in a long black unitard, the soloist held impeccably stylized hands that were maintained throughout the dancing without a hint of humanness. She embodied the dance of Carmen's alter ego to perfection. These ballet dancers are truly connected and listening to the music. A dancer brings words to the music to tell the story ballet and that's exactly what Diana did.
The Dying Swan, originally choreographed in 1905 by Michel Fokine and danced by Uliana Lopatkina, was heart-rending. Not even three minutes long, The Dying Swan is danced almost exclusively with bourrées and luscious yet delicate port des bras resembling the last few wingspans of this weakened bird. A dying animal has never looked so stunningly beautiful. It was breathtaking and in those roughly three minutes, Lopatkina created such a rare opportunity, allowing the audience into the deepest vulnerability that would psychologically shatter most dancers. This was something beyond words, beyond the body, channeled by a spiritual source despite any religious affiliations or beliefs. In those moments, the audience was in complete harmony in spirit, visually emerged in the dance of the dying swan. The second of silence after the music concluded and the dancing stilled soon turned into a roar of elation from the audience. Those three minutes were worth the entire evening. If you're a dancer, and you haven't seen the Mariinsky ballet dancers, you're doing yourself a huge disservice.
The evening's program closed with Bolero, a 1975 dance film. It was an appropriate way to honor Maya Plisetskaya as the film features Maya dancing a solo with a live orchestra.
Choreographically, the audience had to sink into this one as the bare feet and slow evolving choreographic themes took some time. The middle shots evolved into wide shots revealing the stage in the round with a male corps de ballet dancing all around her. Maya wore a simple long brown ponytail and leotard. In the film, she was 50 years old with the performance quality of an elated young girl. Bolero ended with Maya in an almost possessed state of euphoria capturing close-ups of her surrender to her smile, her breath, and the movement. I suppose that's what dance did for Maya. It provided her joy as her dancing provided joy for so many of her fans.
A memorable evening marked a marvelous tribute to one of Mariinsky Ballet's most esteemed ballerinas.