It was the most erotic evening you could ever spend alone—if you went alone, that is, as I did. I’m talking about ballet. There were two ballets performed on Wednesday night in Kyiv—two one-act and sensational ones: Carmen Suite and Scheherazade.
Carmen Suite was composed in 1967 by Rodion Shchedrin for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya. He used only strings and percussion to reimagine Bizet’s famous score—a score he held in high esteem, of course (“fantastic, one of the best in the whole history of music”). He even imported a little from another Bizet score, L’Arlésienne.
The choreography is by Alberto Alonso, the Cuban (who was the brother-in-law of Alicia, the famed ballerina—who died in October at ninety-eight).
And Scheherazade? Rimsky-Korsakov, as you know, choreographed by Fokine.
The ballets were staged by the National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine. The house is named after Taras Shevchenko, the bard of this country (1814–61). A giant bust of him dominates the outside of the theater.
Carmen Suite on Wednesday night may have been imperfect, balletically and musically—but it was charged. It was intense, dramatic, and finally overwhelming. Tetiana Goliakova was the sexiest Carmen I have ever seen, either in the ballet or in the opera. She was not vulgar, mind you—not at all. That would have detracted from the sexiness. She was utterly sexy in her every move, gesture, and glance. No wonder she was driving the men around her mad—at least one of them.
He, Don José, was danced by Dmytro Chebotar, who showed the evolution of the character: from a somewhat formal, correct guy, to a smitten kitten, to a tormented murderer. Oleksii Potiomkin was the girl-stealing Escamillo, struttin’ his stuff. I think he performed more hip thrusts than Elvis.
La Goliakova was not trying to be sexy, mind you—at least, I don’t think she was. She just was. She couldn’t help herself. The stage was loaded with animal magnetism, and you could not take your eyes off it, or ears off it.
Shchedrin certainly helps, with his friend Bizet. It is a charged, erotic, dramatic score. Conducting with all the qualities necessary was Volodymyr Kozhukhar. He did not have a chance to bow at the end, which I thought was unfortunate.
He was back in the pit, regardless, for Scheherazade. How was the playing? Charged—sweepingly sensual—if not polished. Doing a fine job with the violin solos was Olga Kulakova. Neither conductor nor violinist took a bow at the end.
But Olena Gorshunova and Oleksii Tiutiunnyk did. They were Zobeide and the Golden Slave. Honestly, this performance should have come in a brown paper wrapper—it was that erotic, and that right. The entire audience afterward should have been smoking a cigarette. It was beautiful, too, this performance, in its orgiastic way. Tragic as well—the lovers lie dead at the end (along with a stageful of other corpses).
Speaking of lovers lying dead at the end: the next night—Thursday—the company performed Romeo and Juliet. I’m talking about Prokofiev’s ballet, of course, not Gounod’s opera (or Shakespeare’s play). I have sometimes joked that the Prokofiev ballet is the gwoa—the Greatest Work of Art (with apologies to Hamlet, the B Minor Mass, etc.). Am I joking? Well, mainly—I did a little blogpost on this last year, here.
Thursday night’s Romeo and Juliet was not one for the ages. But it was an honest, earnest effort, with first-rate aspects. Chiefly, the performance had a Juliet to die for: Iuliia Moskalenko. She was endearing, girlish, lovely, lithe, melting, heartbreaking—Julietty.
From Prokofiev’s score, suites are made. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra played one in Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago, under the baton of Riccardo Muti. (My review here.) But every page—the whole thing—could stand on its own in a concert hall, dancing or no dancing. What Shchedrin said of Carmen is true of the Prokofiev score: “fantastic, one of the best in the whole history of music.”