Rewind. Last month Natasha and I had the great fortune of visiting the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg to attend a performance of Swan Lake during the city's ballet festival. On the night of the performance we made our way from our hotel to the theatre under leaden skies, along murky canals and over muddy thoroughfares to find Russia's other, less big, ballet. Like many of the great St. Petersburg landmarks, the Mariinsky Theatre is an impressive structure of massive proportions. Unlike the New York City Center, this theatre dominates the street and neighborhood in which it sits with an ornately detailed green and white exterior that makes it look like a very sweet, if slightly dirty, wedding cake of culture.
The inside of the building was a no less impressive example of Russian grandeur and post-Soviet upkeep. Mosaic floors and dimly lit hallways led to our mezzanine area's coat check that was manned by a babushka whose features were as worn as the wooden table she stood behind. As we settled into our rigid seats that were held in place by a jerry rigged system (see inset photo) that would have made my seventh grade shop teacher stop the drill presses, I got a chill. No, it was not caused by the cold dampness of St. Petersburg, it was the same chill I feel when I see the diamond in Yankee Stadium. The body knows that history has happened here, it senses the spirit of superior athletes and the unworldly feats performed by their mortal vessels.
I must say, I am not that well-versed in the ballet, and therefore felt like I had arrived in Mecca without cracking open the Koran. But as the performance began I became a true believer. Like I said, I am a novice when it comes to this art form, and therefore do not possess the right vocabulary to describe it, so I won't do it the injustice and injury. However, I did walk out with a desire to learn more, and see more. So, when we got back to New York and Natasha found out the Kirov was coming to town, we jumped and leaped at the opportunity.
Unlike St. Petersburg, our walk to the theatre was met with both a warmth in temperature and human interaction. As we made our way to our two securely fastened and heavily cushioned seats I scanned the crowed that was abuzz with anticipation, Russian ex-patriots, dancers and pensioners smelling of pee. The show was a bit of a poo-poo platter of this 200-year old company's interpretation of ballet's greatest hits. Petipa’s The Kingdom of Shadows from La Bayadere; Fokine’s Scheherazade and Chopiniana; Gorsky’s The Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote; Balanchine’s Rubies (an Excerpt from Jewels) and Ballet Imperial; as well as Forsythe’s Steptext were all on the bill. Forget the sweet science and the beautiful game, this was a brutal battle between humans and physics. Bodies and music lovingly mixed, tenderly twisted and turned. Power, grace, synchronicity and individuality, perfection and error. Good god, am I getting soft or getting sucked into some high-culture vortex? How 'bout those Yankees? What's an adagio? Next?