Premiere of “Concert Dances” by Alexander Sergeev – June 2024

As part of a three-day festival dedicated to Igor Stravinsky and falling on the composer’s 142th birthday, the Mariinsky offered several evenings of Stravinsky-based music, including the premiere of dancer/choreographer Alexander Sergeev’s latest work, “Concert Dances”, an intelligent multi-layered ballet that highlights the structures in Stravinsky’s score and includes allusions to choreographic works from Balanchine to Ratmansky.

The premiere was nestled into a mixed bill that started with Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces”, always a challenging work with unusual counts and steps that the Mariinsky dancers handled with considerable mastery. Alexandra Iosifidi performed the role of the Bride alongside the extremely tall Vadim Belyaev as the Groom, and Anna Smirnova with Maxim Izmestiev as the two soloists.

But it was the brightness and depth of thought infused into Alexander Sergeev’s work that set it apart. “Concert Dances” is almost a dissection of Stravinsky’s music, where the intricate score is revealed visually in various arrangements of the dancers onstage with differing foci in terms of their steps and positions.

All of the ladies wear slightly curled, Forsythe-like flat tutus: the leading soloist in red velvet, two demi-soloists in bright yellow, and the “corps de ballet” in black lycra. After Maxim Izmestiev, clothed in a shockingly bright yellow unitard, enters like a blinding sun and dances with utter playfulness, the two demi-soloist females join to perform ballonés en pointe in a demure downstage duet, before the leading soloists enter.

Alexandra Khiteeva joined Evan Capitain on the 17th of June, the last night of the run, in the leading roles. At one point they enter the stage with an almost literal pop of energy, he flicking her from arabesque to arabesque en pointe, while ten corps members dance to other chords. Capitain drags her across the floor in a low arabesque, the same pose used in Balanchine’s “Apollo”, which immediately shifts into the double-extension lift from “Rubies” and then double retiré-passés. After the corps members “doze” on the floor, one by one they stand in fifth position ready to commence again. For the men, closed fists, a low “plié-chaussé” movement, and shuffling backwards in plié allude to Ratmansky’s “Concerto DSCH” which contains similar movements.

Khiteeva’s supple flexibility and lighthearted demeanor appear later in a short solo in which her expressiveness takes over as she swivels one leg on the floor and teases the audience with a wry smile. Then Capitaine darts onstage with the urgency of Solor (it was hard not to see “La Bayadère” here), and the same set of deliberate jétés followed by clean temps de cuisses, finishing with a pirouette with his leg outstretched to the front. This choreography can’t be deemed intuitive, but it is utterly musical and flawless in that respect.

The ever-changing combinations of dancers on stage serve as one of the most effective points of Sergeev’s work. When the corps de ballet of ladies in black perform a picturesque sequence of bourrés en pointe, weaving through themselves, we see either Serenade or black cygnets (or both) before their exit gives way to the pair of soloists for a short while, and then the corps members return. When two demi soloists literally “push” the corps members offstage, the humor of the moment underscores Sergeev’s ability to add mirth to the piece. At more than one point, the flirtatiousness and fun of the ballet instill welcome lightheartedness that aren’t present in either “Les Noces” or the more serious “Fairy’s Kiss” that followed.

Maxim Petrov’s “The Fairy’s Kiss”, which premiered 3 years ago, completed the programme. To unpack this ballet would take several pages of analysis, but suffice it to say that the work is an equally brilliant ballet with philosophical leanings and a myriad of potential significance. Upon first viewing, if one were to assign meaning to the libretto, it seems to be a dream that leads to heaven, heaven being the cloud-filled stage in the closing scene which is revealed only after Fairy IV (Soslan Kulaev) dressed like God in a top coat and shiny business shoes, sends the backdrop and wings sailing away to oblivion, and the Youth, danced by Alexander Sergeev (yes, he performed the same evening as the premiere of his ballet), dances in the clouds of mist that fill the stage from floor to ceiling.

“Fairy’s Kiss” has a promising, almost radiant ending but the beginning is dark, metaphysically speaking. The Youth’s shenanigans at the start of the ballet encompass his entry to a room where he encounters three different groups of people, first the black hooligan set, led by the cold, seductive Fairy I (performed expertly by Oksana Skorik), who almost embodies Death itself, clothed in her pearls and long black dress, as if she is from a cemetery ball. They are followed by a group of youthful dancers clothed in bright lime green that suggest oblivious and overly simplified Russian folk dancers. In a third and final set of dancers, the sprightly and untiring Renata Shakirova as Fairy III leads a metallic short-tutu cortege. Her quick allegro and light jumps entranced Sergeev as she pulled him into a magnetic duet.

The concept of Sartre’s Huis Clos is used here: the Youth cannot exit this room once he enters, seems unhappy to be locked inside it despite the repeat and seemingly exhausting changes in “personnel”, and has no control over who else enters or exits. That is until Kulaev’s Fairy IV-Godlike presence “shows him” that the clouds and mist are his alone to dance in. The message that we cannot control Fate or its structures, or even what Heaven may be, is subtle but present.

The Stravinsky programme will run again this summer before the season closes and it is well worth watching.

Photos courtesy of the Mariinsky Press Office by Natasha Razina.