It’s safe to say that Michel Fokine never dreamed of the spaghetti bodies dancing his works in the Mariinsky Ballet today. He could never have imagined the prevailing extremes of flexibility, the whoopee collisions of classical shape and modern contortion.
Nevertheless, in the early 1900s, when the visionary Russian was creating works for St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky and for the roving Ballets Russes, he railed against far lesser elements of acrobatics and showiness. This is what prompted him to create “Chopiniana,” a tribute to classical purity and the primacy of great music; “The Firebird,” in which only the mysterious, ephemeral title character had the privilege of dancing en pointe; and “Scheherazade,” a showcase for feeling and drama, rather than steps.
The Mariinsky performed these works Tuesday at the Kennedy Center Opera House, in a program dubbed “Russian Seasons” to honor Serge Diaghilev, whose Ballets Russes presented Russian dancers to the West with an explosive showing in Paris in 1910. The works are a welcome break from the typical Mariinsky sojourn, which is a week-long presentation of some familiar three-act ballet. Here, we saw more leading dancers and more range of individual expression.