We can see the elements of that rebellion. But can we still feel it? Any lick of it? This will be the test of the Mariinsky Ballet when it performs an all-Fokine program Tuesday through Jan. 22 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. On the bill is Fokine’s most famous work, the moonlit waltz of woodland spirits in white chiffon that we in the West know as “Les Sylphides,” but which the Russians call by its original title, “Chopiniana,” after the piano works that accompany it. Also featured are “Firebird,” the story of a magical bird, raging demons and a kindhearted prince, whose score heralded the young Stravinsky as a rising talent, and “Scheherazade,” with its symphonic suite by Rimsky-Korsakov.
We may think of these works, well-known as they are, as omnipresent in the ballet world. But it has been nearly a quarter-century since “Chopiniana” was danced at the Kennedy Center, and more than 30 years since the Fokine “Firebird” (many others came after him) or “Scheherazade.”
Seldom seen as they have been here, these works are fixtures in ballet history. But the story of the Fokine program is of history lost and reclaimed, of art circling through time to close the holes that politics and shifting tastes left open. It is a story of repair. But has the fix come too late?
“This is the historical place of these ballets,” Yuri Fateev, the Mariinsky Ballet’s deputy director, says by phone from St. Petersburg recently. “They move back home.”
Fateev is speaking metaphorically, as a caretaker of a coveted prize. In truth, “Firebird” and “Scheherazade” are more like orphans than native Mariinsky works, although they were created as precisely that — Russian ballets, made for export. Fokine, a former Mariinsky dancer, has the uprooted biography of so many great Russian artists of his period.
His innovations went in two directions — one-act dance-dramas and abstractions, such as “Chopiniana.” He created that ballet for his home company between 1907 and 1909, refining its lightness and flow, its sustained, dreamy mood, and the daring simplicity of movements. The dancers don’t hotdog with virtuosic leaps and turns — that is what Fokine rejected, what he considered the acrobatic trappings of the Mariinsky’s cache of works by Marius Petipa, creator of “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty.”