Prepping For A World Premiere Former Kirov star shows young dancers the light Anne Garside ---------------------------------------------- Peabody Office of Public Information As the October days darkened into November and now December, dancers at the Peabody Preparatory have been flying into the light, which happens to be the title of a new ballet choreographed by Roudolf Kharatian, the former star of the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. This is one of the most original dance productions on this scale that the Prep has ever undertaken. Dance department chairwoman Carol Bartlett believes, as do those who have seen rehearsals in these final weeks, that we are witnessing the birth of a ballet that is destined to enter the permanent repertoire of the ballet world. In the world premiere--scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 through 16 in Peabody's Friedberg Concert Hall--the dancers will perform to original music by Armenian composer Vahram Babayan, who sounds like a 20th-century Tchaikovsky. His music is highly romantic and melodic. There will be four professional dancers with a supporting cast of Prep ballet students in the 13-16 age range, with one special scene choreographed for the 6-to-7-year-olds. Into the Light tells of an individual seagull's search for perfection in flight. While the rest of the flock scramble near the ground for their daily food, this seagull (danced by Stephen Piper) becomes obsessed with soaring and gliding upward into the heavens, assisted by two radiant silver seagulls. These lead him ever upward to join a silver flock of birds. When he returns to earth, his fellow seagulls at first attack him for being different, then finally try to follow him as he flies ever straighter, faster and higher, until eventually he fades into the light. The costumes are simple, mainly unitards painted with dark gray and white seagull markings, but one group of dancers will shine with the silvery radiance of heavenly creatures, contrasting with the more earthbound flock. There is an element here of the traditional transformation scene beloved of British pantomime. Those of us who watched the work in progress were fascinated to see the metamorphosis of the young dancers into their roles, as they took on fluttering wing movements and distinctly seagullish turns of body and head. Into the Light keeps the principals and corps de ballet in constantly flowing patterns, as though the dancers are soaring and gliding in flight. "Of course it's very difficult to work with nonprofessional dancers, but I am very pleased with how hard these young Prep dancers worked," Kharatian says. "So, instead of trying to make the choreography easier, I tried to bring them up to professional standards. And what's been accomplished in the past few weeks has laid a foundation, I think, for the Prep to have its own ballet company." Roudolf Kharatian has danced all the lead roles of the classical ballet repertoire, from Giselle to Spartacus, with the Kirov, the Bolshoi and other major companies. It is fascinating to watch him teach by example. Every movement of his head and body has the elegance of a dancer trained in the great Russian classical ballet tradition. He looks like he has just stepped off the stage of the Maryinsky, the famed theater that has been the home of the Kirov in St. Petersburg since the time of Catherine the Great. Except that instead of the jewel-encrusted curtain of the Maryinsky, modeled on a ballgown of the Empress Catherine, his backdrop for much of the past few months has been the scuffed walls of one of the older dance studios in the Prep. Born in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Kharatian received his early training at the Yerevan Ballet Academy before going on to the fabled Vaganova Ballet Academy in Leningrad, where one of his fellow class members was Mikhail Baryshnikov. His interest in choreography led him to complete his master's degree in choreography at Moscow State University in 1967. Kharatian was the founder/director of the Armenian State Television Chamber Ballet Company, where, from 1979 to 1991, he built a reputation as an innovative choreographer, experimenting with creating ballets especially for television. Under his direction, the Armenian Chamber Ballet became one of the harbingers of change in the Russian ballet world. In 1971, Kharatian was invited to Washington to teach in the recently established Kirov Ballet School. He is now a member of the Washington Ballet and holds a position on the dance faculty of the Peabody Preparatory, where he teaches classical ballet. News that he has choreographed a new chamber ballet to be given its world premiere at Peabody has spread around the Baltimore/Washington dance community, and the December performances are expected to generate a great deal of attention in the dance world. For ticket information, call the Peabody box office at (410) 659-8124.
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