REVIEW: Kimin Kim brings action-hero explosiveness to Mariinsky Schéhérazade 1


I admit that prior to Sunday night I had never seen a full-length, fully produced staging of Michel Fokine’s Schéhérazade — including lengthy orchestral prelude, sets, costumes, the works. The Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra delivered their version this weekend at Segerstrom Center for the Arts as part of an all-Fokine program.

At Sunday’s performance, the lead couple, harem-hottie Zobeide (Viktoria Tereshkina) and her Golden Slave (Korean-born Kimin Kim), gave vibrancy and new relevance to this hugely historic Ballets Russes chestnut dating from 1910.

Schéhérazade is now, for me, a ballet of ballets. Amidst an opulent “Oriental” set garbed in stunning, beautifully fitting costumes, the dancers poured forth for forty-five minutes to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s searing score. And it was just awesome to hear this familiar music delivered by the Mariinsky Theatre orchestra.

The ballet looked neither overblown nor outdated; rather the inverse, it looked thrilling and fresh. Within its wild-and-wooly Arabian Nights theme — replete with requisite oozy, snakey-slithering — there was a pleasing economy of style.

Even Fokine’s adventurous use of a spine more fluid than classical dance had ever witnessed; even his use of hyper-extended arms with hands bent at middle eastern angles; even the way he parsed out the ladies’ thrillingly deep back-bends, was ordered in neat patterns and groupings that lent coherence. And beautifully delivered by the Mariinsky corps de ballets.

The ballet closely tracks its music, telegraphing plot and character with dead clarity about who is who and what is what. Such a rarity, to ride a ballet’s dramatic arc and emerge at the end feeling like you actually went somewhere.

The journey traverses a fable of ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ in which a Shah is betrayed by his wife Zobeide — danced with spunky modern-girl freedom by Tereshkina. She’s the harem’s capo dei capi, just one of many flexible fillies flouncing in gauzy pantaloons. Groups and gaggles of them. How exotic!

Kim danced Nijinsky’s originating role, the sexy Golden Slave, right at the dramatic edge, adding action-hero force that would make Nijinsky proud, I do believe. Both Kim’s immersive acting with his body, and his blasting into ballet pyrotechnics at every available opportunity evoked Nijinsky in such a respectful way.

The all-Fokine program alas fell somewhat flat in other areas, opening the bill with a strangely moribund “Chopinania” with sections danced at unprecedented slow tempi. Neither did “Spectre of the Rose,” a personal favorite, touch the magical realm of its pedigree. It’s a dream, guys! “The Swan,” aka “The Dying Swan,” bouréed through her last two minutes of life while an audience member in front of me toyed with her cellphone. Ekaterina Kondaurova, dancing the great female solo showcase, perished without me.

One comment on “REVIEW: Kimin Kim brings action-hero explosiveness to Mariinsky Schéhérazade

  1. janet shannon Sep 5,2018 5:51 pm

    Thank you so much, Ms. Levine, for this incisive article about Kimin Kim’s incredible performance in the historic revival of Fokine’s Sheherezade. You perfectly captured the amazing things he is doing that are part of the unique choreography and are a real turn on for anyone with an eye for form. How versatile he is–and how he gives himself 200% to Tereshkina. This ballet is so unfamiliar to newcomers to ballet–and such a great many of the people who make up the enormous audience for ballet today are relatively new to it that they are gun shy of anything but familiar–ballet history is not necessarily the province of balletomanes for some reason. Anyway, the first time I saw Kim was this year one June 1st in La Bayadere when ABT flew him in to replace David Hallberg for two performances. It was perhaps the most exciting event of the season–even ore exciting to me than Osipova’s single performance of Giselle. I think he is among the top 3 male ballet dancers in the world today; he is certainly my favorite. There are so few male dancers who make the steps between the leaps as important as what they do in the air. The fluidity this gives his dancing gives it a poetic quality that reminds me of Nureyev, who I was fortunate enough to see many times in his prime, during his first ten years in the west. (I went to SAB but only danced with the Royal two seasons in NY when they needed extra people.) No major critic covered Kim’s two performances at ABT this spring; granted he was flown in at last minute notice, but I worry that westerners have a slippery grasp of the Asian male persona–as hero, I mean. Asian beauty among women has long been embraced and idealized in the west, but other than Jackie Chan and Yul Brenner, what role models do we really have to look to as heroes in the performing arts? I know that the Chinese dancer, Li Cunxin, who defected in 1981 and danced with the Houston Ballet and later the Queensland Ballet was highly regarded, but he did not really become world famous until the film based on his autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer was released in 2009. I worry that Kim may not receive the attention or promotion he deserves because western audiences are still learning how to embrace an Asian man as a hero. Certainly, Kim could not be more handsome; his jawline will only become more firm with age and he has exquisite cheekbones. He is a magnetic and charismatic performer, and I feel that his masculine power is best seen in his performance in Sheherezade. I have sent innumerable clips of it to ballet friends on Facebook in New York and all they want to look at are clips of him leaping through the air. So I appreciate your article about his performance in this ballet so much. I just learned that he is coming to City Center with the Korean Arts Dance Company for two performances of an original ballet, The Song of the Mermaid, October 20th (8pm) and October 21st (2pm). Let’s hope the critics don’t stay home again. Thank you so much for such a detailed, comprehensive review and article on Kimin Kim, Viktoria Tereshkina and Fokine’s Scheherazade. Yours, Janet Shannon

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