What company puts on a spectacle that compares with the Moiseyev Dance Company? At their best, in works derived from folk sources, the dancers slay you with vitality, with technique to burn, with ensemble precision, with kaleidoscopic patterns.
But make no mistake. The dancing by the 52-year-old company Tuesday at the Pantages Theatre was far removed from everyday folk abilities.
To make the point clear, Moiseyev opened with "The Road to Dance," the choreographer's answer to the question "what makes a Moiseyev dancer?" The answer is: extravagant training--from ballet to gymnastics.
The curtain rose to reveal dancers in practice clothes and boots, standing at a ballet barre. Women and men then alternated in embellishing ballet class exercises with folk motives--ending plies, for instance, with whomping foot stomps or adding heel kicks to battements.
From simple exercises, the piece swiftly, fluidly progressed to complex floor patterns and space- and air-devouring maneuvers. It was a tour de force that set expectations of velocity and virtuosity for the rest of the evening.
Of the two dances being presented in the United States for the first time, only "Malamba" (to wonderful hitch-beat music of Argentina) matched the expectations, offering a series of increasingly competitive turns and jumps, with dancers shooting their legs out in improbable directions and landing on the sides of their boot soles.
The other new dance, "Aragonnaise Jota" (Glinka, arranged by N. Nekrasov), had high-flying heel-clicks, but was rigidly, rotely structured.
Only "Gopak," the finale, recaptured the sense of unlimited virtuosic possibility--with dancers in flying split-leaps, high jumps and circuits of off-center barrel turns.
Dramatic dances seemed to be another matter, although, fortunately, the company offered nothing as egregious as Moiseyev's "Night on Bald Mountain" seen on the 1986 tour.
True, only a churl would deny that "The Shrewd Makanou," in which a village busy-body helps a shy lad woo a maid, has its never-never-land charm. But "Partisans," Moiseyev's great homage to the home front of World War II, has become so smoothly danced, so removed from genuine sense of struggle that it now looked merely like an amusing divertissement and verged on kitsch.
"Polovtsian Dances" (to Borodin), however, went over the edge. A big production number, with leaping spear carriers, flexing archers, galloping horsemen and harem slaves suing for mercy and roiling in sinuous curves, the work lacked Fokine's magical evocation of savagery held in awe by beauty in his choreography to this music.
"Sanchakou," inspired by an incident in a Chinese opera, was stripped of dramatic context and seemed simply a minor comedy in which Sergei Anikin and Andrei Timofeyev tried to create the illusion of fighting each other in the dark--on a brightly lit stage.
The audience responded to everything enthusiastically, bringing Moiseyev on stage at the end to acknowledge the applause; then the company broke into a Virginia Reel. Throughout, Alexander Radzhetski had conducted the amplified pit band.
Performances continue through March 5.