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DANCE REVIEW : Balletic Vaudeville From Moscow

Times Music/Dance Critic

The Moscow Classical Ballet, which limped into the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, isn’t big, glamorous and flamboyant like the Bolshoi. Nor is it a guardian of refined virtue like the Kirov company of legendary Leningrad.

Only 20 years old, it is young and brash. It also serves as a modest melting pot of Soviet styles, impulses and traditions.

For most practical purposes, it is a touring ensemble. As such, it must take the rigors of the road in stride.

Plenty of rigors marked the long and circuitous road that led to Costa Mesa. Ekaterina Maximova, the erstwhile darling of the Bolshoi who was to have served as chief box-office attraction on this visit, reportedly fell victim to a foot injury. Tatiana Terekhova, a stellar replacement hastily summoned from the Kirov, could not be easily integrated into scheduled repertory plans. To complicate matters further, a secondary couple from the Bolshoi, Vitaly Artushkin and Alla Khaniashvili, became last-minute dropouts.

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Under the circumstances, no one could be surprised to find wholesale revisions in casting and drastic shuffling of vehicles. Nor, given the exigencies of travel and limitations of rehearsal, could anyone be surprised by the air of improvisation that hung over the vaunted Orange County opening. One could be disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised.

Official publicity for the Moscow Classical Ballet-known at home as the Moscow State Ballet Theater of the U.S.S.R.--claims that the company specializes in serious full-length challenges. For their local debut, however, the Muscovites presented just another vaudeville show with tutus and toe-shoes, the sort of grand-jete-and-fouette orgy that always produces instant applause and confuses art with athleticism.

The non-festivities opened with Act II of “Swan Lake,” a shaky preview of the complete production that will be seen in Pasadena next week. On this occasion, the decors of the British designer Tim Goodchild (uncredited in the program) looked ponderous and kitschy. The shallow stage was bathed in primitive green and blue lights and the principals were sometimes obscured by shadows. A scruffy little band under Pavel Salnikov mangled Tchaikovsky in the pit while suffering the insult of grotesque amplification. (Later in the evening, cooler heads prevailed, and the microphones were mercifully muted.)

Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasiliov, the company directors, cluttered the action with a lot of premature preening of corps fowl and much obtrusive wing-flapping of a Rothbart, who masqueraded as a giant turkey. The choreographic innovations remained tactfully uncredited in the program.

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Eventually the dust settled to reveal white-swan business as usual. Galina Shlyapina introduced a rather tough little Odette, correct in manner but taut in line. Alexander Gorbatsevich partnered her attentively as Siegfried. Valery Trofimchuk flapped ferociously as their nemesis. The corps of 16 swans proved efficient.

The circus indulgences--three big pas de deux in toto plus a collage of redundantly climactic highlight-snippets from six other pas de deux--comprised the central portion of the agenda. It was as if someone had diligently separated the contents of a box of Cracker Jacks and passed the peanuts off as a meal.

At least the pacing was swift. At least some of the dancing was good.

The best dancing came from Terekhova, who had been prevented by injury from making more than fleeting appearances with the Kirov in Los Angeles in 1986. Here she brought smoldering flamboyance, not to mention grandeur and elegance, to Kitri’s triumphant convolutions from “Don Quixote” and the exultant outbursts of Vaganova’s Diana.

Ilgiz Galimullin, 24, complemented her with impetuous elan as Basilio and Actaeon. He may have the rare stuff of which danseurs nobles are made.

The others ignited sparks of uneven brightness. In general, enthusiasm outweighed finesse.

Stanislav Isayev soared nicely through “Le Corsaire.” A pert Svetlana Kubasova and a daft Andrei Kudelin cloyed in the inevitable “Harlequinade” charade, this one courtesy of Drigo and Lopukhov. Vera Timashova spun frantically as a contextually unmotivated Odile. Tatiana Paly offered a glimpse of major promise in Gsovsky’s “Grand Pas Classique.” Galina Skuratova encountered some difficulty with the ethereal charms of the Bournonville Sylphide, but Igor Terentiev, her James, came close to providing the wonted lightness and speed. Ludmilla Vasilieva joined Valery Trofimchuk for a pleasantly rowdy sample of Petipa’s “Carnival in Venice.”

For a not-so-grand finale, the company offered a generous chunk of “The Creation of the World,” a pop-oriented extravaganza created by Kasatkina and Vasiliov in 1968. It would seem to be rich in cartoon cliches, poor in choreographic invention and rather sleazy in musical impulse (the saccharin-coated mock-Prokofiev score is the work of Andrei Petrov).

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Vladimir Malakhov, the 20-year-old Wunderkind of the company, danced with wide-eyed ardor as Adam, a tongue-in-cheeky role originally set on Mikhail Baryshnikov. Valeria Tsoi was the properly innocent and sentimental Eve, Vera Timashova the sly and slinky She-Devil, Andrei Kudelin the quaintly befuddled God, Nikolai Tikhomirov the snazzy diabolical creature in red.

Everyone was terminally cute.


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