Observations: Gergiev's not so merry dance

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The Independent Culture

Some conductors are more Maestro than others. At a curtain call for the Mariinsky Ballet at Sadler's Wells last week, dancer Ekaterina Kondaurova ran to the wings to bring on star conductor and artistic director Valery Gergiev. So far, so normal – but then there was a long pause. Her colleagues, embarrassed, went on taking their bows. At last Kondaurova came back, alone. After a few more calls, she tried the wings again: this time, she got him.

It was a weird moment, but then Gergiev is notoriously awkward. As director of the Mariinsky Theatre, he oversees its Opera, Ballet and Orchestra while jetting around the world to conduct other orchestras and at festivals. His approach to the ballet company is imperious. After clashes with Gergiev, former ballet director Makhar Vaziev was recently replaced with the apparently more biddable Yuri Fateyev.

The high-handedness was there in the music, with Gergiev conducting a dawdling performance of Apollo. Leading conductors can be reluctant to work with ballet, where their musical vision is limited by what the human body can keep up with. Charles Mackerras gave up conducting ballet because, he said, "the dancing comes first so the music gets distorted rhythmically".

Even by concert standards, Gergiev's Apollo was perversely slow. For the dancers, it must have been like swimming through treacle.

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