Ballet in Russia, a quintessential splurge

Even though my Russian visa still hasn’t been officially issued — it’s in the tortured, Kafkaesque pipeline, though they have said (brusquely) that it should ship in two days — I went ahead and bought a ticket for the ballet at the famous, chandelier-encrusted Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

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Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

I’ve been to the ballet once in my life — Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s clashing “Rite of Spring” in San Francisco, eons ago. Granularly, I know next to nothing about the art form, though my appreciation for it is lavish. I think Misty Copeland is recklessly awesome. (I think the Natalie Portman movie “Black Swan” is curdlingly rotten.)

Misty Copeland in the title role, American Ballet Theatre
Misty Copeland in the title role of “The Firebird,” American Ballet Theatre

The mid-October matinee is for Stravinsky’s 1910 “The Firebird,” a Technicolor Russian fairytale told in two “scenes,” which runs a zippy 50 minutes. The ballet, with choreography by Michel Fokine, was Stravinsky’s breakthrough as a composer, followed famously by “Petrushka” and the “Rite of Spring.” My ticket in the Dress Circle was a doable $48.

I’ve been reading up on the performance, and came across choreographer Fokine’s fascinating notes:

“When staging the dances I used three principles that are utterly different in terms of character and technique in this ballet.

“I created the evil kingdom using grotesque, angular and sometimes freakish and sometimes amusing movements. The monsters moved on all fours, jumped like frogs, did different ‘tricks’ with their legs, sitting and lying on the stage, their hands like fish fins, at times under the elbows, at times under the ears, the arms were entwined, they moved from one side to the other, squatting and so on, in a word they did everything that twenty years later began to be known as modern dance and what at the time seemed to me to be the most suitable means of expressing a nightmare, horror and ugliness. Virtuoso leaps and frivolity were also used.”

This sounds splendidly transporting. Which is precisely why I travel. Expect a vivid report next month. And if anyone has opinions or comments about this ballet or St. Petersburg or what have you, please share. Thanks.

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