Impeccable dancing. Heart-lifting dancing. As the week ended, the Mariinsky Ballet staged a triple bill of works by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and made them sublimely their own. Over the past two decades, the company has reclaimed its Old Boy, Balanchine, whose Scotch Symphony and Ballet Imperial were on view, together with Jerome Robbins’s In The Night. St Petersburg schooling illuminated and enhanced these ballets, superlative classic style burnishing and naturalising choreography made for very different ensembles.
Balanchine created his choreography for Mendelssohn’s symphony (shorn of its first movement) in 1952. It is “about” ballet’s Scotland, which is populated by sylphides and betartaned chaps. And it is a small and, I find, mysteriously beguiling marvel, like the 1830s Sylphide herself. The idea of an unattainable beloved (the sylph) haunts it, but so do tiny hints of comedy – poses reminiscent of group photographs; the heroine as apparition – while the dances speak of Scottish reels and their formations and, everywhere, of Mendelssohn’s Hibernia. I love the piece and adore the way the Mariinsky plays it. It needed a more subtle ballerina than Anastasia Matvienko to lure the fine Alexander Sergeyev to his balletic doom, but the clarity and elegance of the ensemble were tremendous.
Words that hardly serve to describe a phenomenal performance of In the Night. Three couples, varied in their emotions. Chopin piano music. Love serene (Yevgenia Obraztsova and Filipp Stepin); love more mature (Alina Somova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko); love as anguish and final joy (Ulyana Lopatkina and Danila Korsuntsev). Flawless dancing, born of the music, alert to every possibility, to every emotional breath, exquisite in nuance, from each artist.
The closing Ballet Imperial, created 70 years ago, is given in the pale shifts/no scenery manner that is how Balanchine finally shaped it for his own company. Heretically, I much prefer the opulent decorations made by Eugene Berman for the Royal Ballet production in 1950, with tutus and hints of the Winter Palace as setting. But this Mariinsky performance, led by the dazzling Viktoria Tereshkina and no less dazzling Vladimir Shklyarov, with a corps de ballet of radiant style and power, is commandingly good: the Winter Palace is gloriously there in the dancing of the entire cast.