The Mariinsky’s Miraculous Mandarin – November 2023

The overarching themes of prostitution, theft, violence and murder form the backdrop to “The Miraculous Mandarin”, a 45-minute ballet whose title refers to the bright cobalt blue Mandarin-collar suit worn by the main hero. The production first greeted the Mariinsky stage in June 2023 after its initial premiere in Cleveland in 2017.  VaganovaToday managed to attend the production in late November for the first time.
Yuri Possokhov’s avant-garde work feels more like a musical production than a ballet, per se. He brings the orchestra to the upstage space, with the sparse cast dancing downstage.

A single lucite “box” that forms the window from which the woman (prostitute) undulates and lures in her victims, as well as several long hanging ropes are the only stage sets used. The cast features just 7 dancers, two of which are the main characters. The woman and Mandarin are drawn to each other, and the group of thugs who control the woman’s “business operations” kill the Mandarin. They beat him to death with chairs, then hang him from a noose and yet each time he stands up and continues to dance. The prostitute repeatedly rejects his advances. Their “chase” lasts the bulk of the ballet until the very end. When finally she kisses him on the mouth, it kills him, and the lights go dark on the stage.

While some summaries state that the girl is “forced to lure” the Mandarin to his death, the performance suggests otherwise.

The thugs attempt to kill the Mandarin twice and finally leave the stage before the final duet. One might even venture to suggest that is perhaps the tainted kiss of an abused woman –and one who abuses others– that finally kills the supposedly deathless Mandarin.

On 26 November, Nadezhda Batoeva danced the Girl with a sultry, indifferent attitude alongside Kian James Magnis who debuted as the Mandarin. Magnis, who initially trained with Nikolai Kabaniaev in California and then completed his studies with 2 years at the Vaganova Academy, is a stately onstage presence with a light jump and long lines. When he entered, the combination of lighting and bright cobalt in his jacket formed a glowing, almost saintly presence, underscored by his aloof yet magnetic appeal. Batoeva’s raw saunter is at first playful, mixing sexuality with a lyrical approach to arabesques and soutenus. Magnis’ jumps seem to elevate without effort, and his partnering –which in this choreography is far from simple– was impeccable. In their final duet, her hate-filled stare into his eyes precedes the literal “kiss of death”, and one wonders what, in fact, is the underlying meaning to this odd libretto by Melchior Lengyel to Bela Bartok’s modern score.
“Bluebeard’s Castle” followed, a short 45-minute opera also set by Possokhov to Bartok’s score, and thus combined on the same bill. The opera’s structure is the same: orchestra upstage, and the two opera singers downstage with large banners hung overhead as the only sets. VaganovaToday will leave the assessment of opera to opera experts. But suffice it to say, the dark themes of both Possokhov works make for a macabre evening.

Photos: Courtesy of the Mariinsky Press office, all by Natasha Razina.