Balanchine Ballets, Royal Opera House, London – review

The Mariinsky Ballet has, in recent years, reclaimed its grandest Old Boy by mounting splendid stagings of the Balanchine repertory, and, be it gratefully added, dancing them splendidly. So, on Friday night, we were treated to a rarity – Balanchine’s two-act A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and to that sublimest statement about classical ballet in the 20th century (a work 86 years old, and more true, more forward-looking still than most of the strivings offered by academic choreographers today), Apollo.

It was, on any terms, an evening of greatest pleasures. Balanchine appeared in Dream as a child at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg and learnt there to love the play. His 1962 production tells the story in a lengthy (but never too-lengthy) first act, and then, as it were, ties the choreographic knots on the lovers’ stories in a garland of spiffing dances in Act Two. I think the whole thing a marvel, marvellously danced by the present Mariinsky cast, with Viktoria Tereshkina an extra marvel as Titania, with our local boy, Xander Parish, a splendid Demetrius, and the whole troupe on magnificent form. A great ballet, superbly done.

My somewhat brief comments on Dream are dictated by a need to offer laurels for the performance of Kristina Shapran as Terpsichore in Apollo. I am not given to falling in love with dancers’ artistry – notwithstanding my recent joy in Olga Smirnova’s great talent. But with Kristina Shapran – set against Vladimir Shklyarov’s grandly drawn Apollo – I saw dancing of astonishing promise. That she is young, has exquisite feet, an ideal physique, is musically alert and technically assured, we might (perhaps, perhaps!) take for granted in a debutante Mariinsky soloist.

But Shapran seems to give each step, each action, an inner life that is revealed to us as she moves. The power of the dance – its energies, its forms, its purpose – is clear in her artistry, and simply and beautifully communicated to us. Here is a very rare talent. She is in the proper place for it to be nurtured. She has, please Heaven and the Mariinsky’s great teachers, a wonderful future.

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