Monday, November 3, 2014

An evening of ballet. Of course! It's Russia!

After touring The Hermitage (a/k/a The Winter Palace) all day, then returning to the hotel for refreshments and a bit of freshening up, next up on the schedule of entertainment was an evening of ballet.  Once again, Alena had ponied up and purchased tickets for everyone.  My!  She was such a gracious hostess for her wedding guests from foreign countries.  Thank you once again, Alena and Riza!

This time we managed to squeeze Bill, Frank and Barbara Gladney, and me into one taxi rather than taking 2 taxis.  It was a tight squeeze but we were not going too far and we preferred to stay together.  Not one of us had any idea where we were going.  Riza had made the taxi arrangements and the drivers knew the destination.  The nighttime weather was a mix of snow and freezing rain and the streets were a mess.

And the destination was:  I have no idea.  We never got the name of the place.  It was a bakery/restaurant just a few blocks from the theater where we would enjoy the ballet.  It was a small place that served only these huge 'pies' of a dozen or so varieties, both savory and sweet.  These were not pies as we know pies.  These were thick pastry surrounding a thick filling.  Riza and Alena had ordered 3 pieces of pies for each person.  There were salmon, chicken and apple, although Bill and I never got any of the apple.  Apparently those were so good that the folks who arrived before us had gobbled up all the apple pies.  There is no way either Bill or I could have eaten 3 pieces of these pies!  Each piece was a full meal to us.  I ate the salmon and Bill tried the chicken.  Then we each nibbled on another piece, picking out the savory fillings and forgoing all that pastry.  I just could not leave that salmon alone; it was delicious.  (I ate more salmon during our short stay in St. Petersburg than I have had in 10 years.  Love salmon and it is served A LOT in St. Petersburg.)  Pots of Russian style tea were served and this was a perfect meal on a night of frozen rain.

On the exterior door to the restaurant there was a sign posted warning customers to watch their personal belongings closely as there were thieves in the area.  Inside the restroom there was another sign stating to keep your handbag and wallet close and under careful scrutiny as there were pickpockets in the area who had been known to 'work' inside the restaurant. Glad they warned us!

After our delicious and filling meal, we filed out onto the sidewalk into the cold rain.  The theater was only a few blocks down that busy street; did not take us long to find it.  As I was not wearing waterproof clothing and had forgotten to bring the umbrellas (left in the hotel room), I rushed on ahead of everyone else with Bill close on my heels in the freezing rain, being careful not to slip on the gathering ice.  

Our seats at the theater were on the left hand side of the stage next to a fancy box, on the second level from the top.  Alena had bought seats spread throughout the theater so we were able to watch as the others arrived who were seated on the opposite side.  We tried taking photos of some of them but all we had was the iPhone and that did not work at that distance.  Too blurry and grainy, so no photos of the others.

The old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater
Photo taken off internet site
Someone told us that there is now a new Mariinsky Theater; but, thankfully, this ballet was being performed in the old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater.  Who cares about a new theater.  We have plenty of "new" at home in Houston.  We preferred the ambiance of the old theater.

The original Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater

Main curtain and part of orchestra.
Photo taken before the performance started.

Someone told us that this ballet was not performed by the local St. Petersburg troupe.  This was a visiting troupe from a very distant Russian city.  I could not understand the name of that city.  I searched online later and it did appear to me that this ballet was performed by the Mariinsky Ballet troupe, but possibly I misunderstood.

The main box or Royal Box as seen from our seats on the upper left side
This old theater was ornate and lavish, like many of the old sites we visited in Russia.  It has been well maintained.

The performance that night was a ballet called Shurale.  It was a full revival of a 1945 production, choreographed by Leonid Yacobson.  It consisted of 3 acts and 4 scenes with motifs from old Tatar folk tales.  The stage designs and the costumes were simply fabulous.  And I was blown away by the size of this dance troupe!  There had to have been at minimum 90 dancers, 24 of whom were children.  Quite a lot to take a show on the road!  So maybe it was the real St. Petersburg troupe after all.

Right hand box directly across from our seats.
Barbara and Frank sat in the second level from top
next to that box.

I *think* that the orchestra was the local orchestra for the regular St. Petersburg dance troupe.  They were really excellent.  I enjoyed the orchestra even more than the dancers, maybe because our side seats offered a partially obstructed view and when the performers were on the far left hand side of the stage they were outside our view.  Whereas, the orchestra was in full view below us and the sound quality was superb.

Bill and I were totally lost attempting to follow the story line of this ballet.  But we enjoyed it anyway.  Bill made up names for the main characters and we made up our own story of what was portrayed.  Since we know nothing of Tatar folk tales, be certain that our story differed totally from the story intended to be conveyed.  Bet ours was a lot more fun.  Not so dark and somber as what was portrayed on stage.

This performance was not true ballet.  

It was a mixture of ballet and modern dance.  Which actually is the type of ballet that Bill and I enjoy most.  Years ago I was a patron of the Houston Ballot and each season we attended every performance which was choreographed by Trey McIntyre, who was extremely young at the time for a job such as that.  He began working under direction of Ben Stevenson, who was Artistic Director and eventually appointed Director Emeritus of the Houston Ballet.  Trey McIntyre choreographed Skeleton Clock when he was only 20 years old!
Trey McIntyre at Houston Ballet
He later left the Houston Ballet and formed The Trey McIntyre Project, a small dance troupe based in Boise, Idaho, who performed all over the USA. The TMP recently disbanded.  Gosh, I so hope Mr. McIntyre continues choreography as he is such a talent.
End of TMP

The ballet we saw in the old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater reminded very much of Trey McIntyre's work.  Except it was darker and the story line of a different culture and history.  We enjoyed it very much.

When searching for information on the Mariinsky theater I came across information on the Mariinsky Palace -- a building that we had seen several times but did not know what it was.

The Mariinsky Palace

Wonder who the Mariinskys were.  The old Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater is home for the Mariinsky Ballet troupe, originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet and founded in 1740.  Internationally, the Mariinsky Ballet is known by its former Soviet name of the Kirov Ballet.  It is the parent company of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, a leading international ballet school.  

Here is a link to the playbill for the performance of Shurale that we enjoyed on 19 October 2014.  
Shurale production

Click on the small photos at that link to see examples of the beautiful costumes and stage designs.  Fabulous!

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