The Murat Theatre, Indianapolis
February 6-7, 2004
Reviewed by Clive Barnes
When The Creation of the World first cropped up in 1923, it was, it seems, one of the cleverer confections of that rival to the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, Rolf de Maré’s Ballets Suedois. It had a libretto by novelist Blaise Cendrars, music by Darius Milhaud, designs by Fernand Leger, and choreography (usually the least important part of a Ballets Suedois event) by Jean Borlin.
The Creation of the World, as revised and revived by Eldar Aliev’s Ballet Internationale-Indianapolis, has nothing to do with Milhaud. Although adopting a comically satiric approach to a similar theme (how different could it be?) it uses a new score by Andrei Petrov, and has choreography by the directors of the Moscow Classical Ballet, Natalya Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov. Inspired by the comic drawings of the French illustrator Jean Effel, the work, in its first three-act version in 1971, was given by the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg with the dream cast of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Irina Kolpakova as Adam and Eve, Yuri Soloviev as God, Valery Panov as the Devil, and Galina Panova (then Ragozina) as Diablesse, the Devil’s Assistant.
It was later staged by the Moscow State Classical Ballet, and then in 1997 in a slightly changed two-act version for the Ballet Internationale. It was basically this version, once more rehearsed by Kasatkina and Vasilyov themselves, and Kolpakova, who is now the Assistant Artistic Director of the company (and a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre), that was brought back to Indiana this year. Never having seen either the ballet or Aliev’s company, I was happy to accept an invitation to see it.
Kasatkina and Vasilyov, a husband and wife team originally from Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, were determined to incorporate into Soviet ballet something of the modernist element they had seen in the West, creating, for example, their own version of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps for the Bolshoi. Like the Sacre, this Creation reveals Soviet ballet trying to find a new voice, absorbing the fresh accents it was hearing from the West, but in itself it has a deliberately naive attraction, like, say the paintings of Henri Rousseau or Grandma Moses, although the Petrov music admittedly seems more simplistic than naïve.
Although its power fades towards the end as they run out of steam and theme, Katsakina and Vasyliov’s choreography has an animalistic force—not unlike the dances they provided for Yuri Vladimirov in Le Sacre—here given a playful, nursery charm. The concept of God as an amiable buffoon rocketing around the stage in jetés entournant is amusing, as is the idea of the Devil, waving his tail and spinning off like a virtuoso dance-class whiz-kid. More subtle are the images of Adam and Eve—first partly godlet-like in their serenity, and then, when banished from paradise, emerging with more humanistic gestures. The dances, although totally classic in basis, have at the same time a reimagined classicism that definitely owes something to the West.
One can only imagine what the ballet was like with Soloviev, Panov and Baryshnikov, but the Indianapolis troupe (truly Internationale) performed it very well indeed. I saw two overall excellent casts, the first led by the Turkish Ogulcan Borova (a feisty, brilliant dancer who won the Gold Medal at the New York International Ballet Competition last year) as Adam, and Ukrainian-born Irina Komarenko as Eve, alternating with Russian Alexei Tyukov and Bolshoi-trained Korean So Yon Nam. Borova and Tyukov also alternated as the Devil (for the record Borova was the better Adam and Tyukov the better Devil), and another Ukrainian Ivan Kozlov, a former principal of the Eifman Ballet, made a comically energetic God. The two female Devils were New Jersey-born Karen Scalzitti-Kennedy in the first cast and a very slinky Japanese Cheiko Oiwa in the second.
The company has enormous vitality. The women have lovely arms and strong backs; the men excel in that open, forthright presentation of the old Kirov. The troupe is imbued with the manner of the Kirov from the days of Konstantin Sergeyev and Natalia Dudinskaya in the 1960s, which is what you would expect from its background. For it not only has Aliev, once a distinguished Kirov premier danseur, as its artistic director, but it also has two bright stars of those Sergeyev years—Kolpokova, as his assistant, and her husband Vladilen Semenov, as director of the company school.