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Imperfect but Plucky ‘Swan Lake’ From Perm Ballet

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Perm State Ballet, Russia’s third largest classical company, is the plucky company that could.

Closing its first United States tour over the weekend at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, the troupe, under the direction of Kirill Shmorgoner, prevailed despite obvious budget limitations.

It has the least lavish sets and costumes of its famous Russian counterparts, or of major American or European companies. Many of the dancers do double or even triple duty. Some of the women look alarmingly thin.

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But they work their hearts out, the style is elegant and unified, and there’s at least one major star among them.

That style is no accident.

The Kirov Ballet, with its renowned school, was relocated to to Perm, a city in the Urals in 1941 as the Nazis were besieging Leningrad.

Why Perm? Balletomanes might guess it was because Serge Diaghilev, who founded the famed Ballets Russes, was born and grew up there. Probably there was a more strategic war reason. At any rate, the Kirov returned home to Leningrad in 1944, but its influence in Perm clearly remained.

Perm graduates have returned the favor by going on to become stars at the Bolshoi and at the Kirov.

The Cerritos engagement opened with two days of “Swan Lake.” The touring production has its problems. It does away with so much mime that you may not know that Prince Siegfried, who makes a weakly heralded entrance, learns at the end of the first act that he must marry. Certainly there are no clues. Nor does he get a solo to indicate his isolation, unhappiness or any dissatisfaction with life at the court.

Odette does not appear at her important musical cue in the Ballroom Scene to warn Siegfried of deception. (She, or rather, another dancer in a similar costume, does come on briefly at the end, after the catastrophe has occurred.)

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The climax of the ballet, fashioned after the happy ending mandated during the Soviet era, lacks even a fight between Siegfried and the evil Rothbart. Instead, the prince holds Odette aloft, and Rothbart, as if a Wili faced with the power of the cross in “Giselle,” simply wilts. It doesn’t make narrative sense, it doesn’t fit the original scenario, and you wonder why the two didn’t think of this strategy during the first Lakeside scene. But it makes an emotional impact.

On Friday, Vitaly Poleschuk danced Siegfried, replacing the originally announced Roman Geer, who had fractured his left foot. Geer would dance at the Saturday matinee, but because he was still suffering great pain, according to a company spokesperson, his variation in the ballroom scene was cut. More about him later.

Poleschuk is tall and elegant and partnered well. But dramatically he was pretty much a cipher. If any weakness can be ascribed generally to the company, this lack of dramatic characterization is it.

Opposite him was the tall and willowy Elena Kulagina, already a speedy, coolish, sharp-edged Odette. Her Odile, with the devastating marathon fouette sequence, turned vigorously hard and evil in the extreme.

Geer danced the prince Saturday afternoon with such refinement, involvement and lift-off elevation that, had his variation not been cut, hardly anyone would have suspected (despite some smeared landings) that he was dancing through a major painful injury.

Opposite him was the superb Yulia Mashkina, who combined technical excellence with rich characterization. She was a warm, responsive, shyly hopeful Odette, and she projected such apparent happiness and trust as Odile that it was easy to believe Siegfried could mistake the two for the same woman.

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Both days, Oleg Posokhin was the virtuoso, high-flying and sunny, silly-goose Jester. Sergei Zagorulko made an intense Rothbart at both performances.

The springy Sergei Mershin danced in the pas de trois Friday. Poleschuk danced the part Saturday afternoon, wearing his prince’s costume, whose more elaborate embroidery on the back outclassed Geer’s otherwise identical outfit.

Completing the pas de trois on both occasions were the poised Tatiana Bolshukhina and the delicate Natalia Makina.

The six princesses rejected by Siegfried in the ballroom scene each reacted to his decision, showing that characterization is not entirely left out of the Perm Academy training.

The corps had moments of awkward regimentation and raggedness both days. Consider it fatigue. The swans’ port de bras also tended to be stiff. But at least all the swans, precise and well-drilled as they were, were stiff in the same way.

Tchaikovsky was particularly well served by the company’s own orchestra, under the warm and knowing, if sometimes very fast conducting of Vadim Myunster.

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