The likable, fallible "Stars of the Soviet Ballet," currently touring the country, represent a type of import we'll probably be seeing more of now that dancers from the land of glasnost are free to go barnstorming like their Western colleagues. "Stars" is a concert group, and although the performers are fully costumed, there are no production numbers. For the price of $28 or $30 on Friday at Montgomery College's Performing Arts Center, one could see 10 soloists from four of the Soviet Union's ballet theaters -- Kiev's, Donetsk's, Tbilisi's and Moscow's Bolshoi -- in a varied sampling of roles that offered a good chance to judge the strengths and weaknesses of ballet in the U.S.S.R. today.
The program began badly with a truncated pas de dix from Marius Petipa's "Raymonda," its quartet for four men looking like a counterpart to the "Mistake" Waltz in Jerome Robbins's "The Concert." One chap, then another inserted extra steps into unison passages that, because of pacing, were anything but to begin with. And those wickedly timed air turns with their precision landings were so wobbly that the "fifth" involved made one think of a vodka bottle rather than the foot position. In the larger ensembles, as often happens when principals dance them, the individuals weren't matched in size or stylistically attuned. Nevertheless the ballerina, Nina Semizorova, was respectable.
Semizorova is a first dancer at the Bolshoi. She has a reed-thin body, florid arm movements and a manner as high-strung as a captured bird's -- which some fans find exciting. I liked the variety she brought to the three Petipa roles that were hers on this bill. Raymonda requires a weightiness that Semizorova lacks, yet she compensated by stressing rhythm and giving her solo exceptional speed. As Aurora in the "Rose" Adagio from "The Sleeping Beauty," she swayed slightly in the lengthy balances as she took each new cavalier's hand, but her equilibrium was never in serious jeopardy. Just to make sure of the end, she dipped into a deep arabesque before letting go of support for her final, free pose. In "Don Quixote," Semizorova's lightness was lovely as she skimmed through Kitri's variation in the grand duo.
Evgenia Kostyleva isn't typical of Soviet dancers. This tiny Kiev principal has neither the flowing lines nor the suppleness of Vaganova training, and her variation in the grandiose "Raymonda" excerpt made her seem tough as leather -- which she wasn't in a soubrette role, the ballerina in Vainonen's "The Flames of Paris." Delightfully brittle instead, she showed filigree steps immaculately and turned fouettes as firm as a dancer of the old Italian school. It's good to learn that the Soviet system encompasses divergent individuals!
Irma Nioradze, a Tbilisi beauty, knew how to impart elegance to modern works without diminishing their novelty. Following contemporary Soviet choreographer Georgi Aleksidze's "The Swan of Tuonela" and excerpts from French choreographer Roland Petit's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Nioradze fulfilled our classical expectations in a delicate, lilting, rarely performed solo from "Don Quixote." Tatiana Beletzkaya, from Kiev, has a steely technique that sometimes lacks nuance; it would have been wonderful if she'd paused before folding her legs inward for her "Le Corsaire" variation (the one that also turns up in "Don Q") and had given the downward movement a dynamic distinct from the one she used for extending them to incredible heights. The fifth ballerina, Inna Dorofeyeva (fondly remembered from visits of the Donetsk Ballet), appeared briefly in ensembles but danced no solos due to an injury.
Among the men, tall and severe Viktor Yeremenko, from Kiev, made a strong impression with highly honed turns and guillotine endings in "Don Quixote," but the Bolshoi's Mark Peretokin, a matinee idol type, ought to have greater technical control. Tbilisi's Vladimir Djuluhadze seemed suited for dramatic character roles; his Hunchback in the Petit excerpt had dignity. Kiev's Anatoli Kucheruk is a good jumper but otherwise didn't make much of an impact. The program's bad boy was Donetsk's Vadim Pisarev. It was he who started upsetting "Raymonda." Had one known that he'd traveled 37 hours and joined "Stars" just that afternoon, one would have forgiven him right away. As it was, he offered his excuses in two fine solos -- the flamboyant Gopak from Zakharov's "Taras Bulba," which is still fresh though it's his signature piece, and the interestingly introspective "Musician," a Paganini solo by an unfamiliar choreographer listed as A. Rybiy. That this piece and Aleksidze's "Swan" are a couple of notches above most other contemporary Soviet choreography we've seen lately is to the credit of Shamil Yagudin, director of "Stars."