Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra kicks off ballet fest with Tchaikovsky’s classics

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Classical ballet buffs were in for a treat when the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s third ballet festival kicked off last weekend with well-loved Tchaikovsky scores, under the baton of Armenian conductor Karen Durgaryan.

Performed by the 85-year-old Ballet of Armenia, Tchaikovsky Spectacular featured excerpts from The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Though The Nutcracker is usually staged around Christmas due to its storyline, it still appeals to ballet aficionados at other times. It tells the tale of a young girl named Clara and her Nutcracker doll that comes to life, whisking her away to the land of sweets.

For the Kuala Lumpur show, choreographer Armen Gregorian masterfully weaved together the enchantment and fantasy of the beloved classic, giving the eight selected scenes (Spanish: Chocolate, Arabian: Coffee, Dance Of The Mirlitons: Candy Canes, Waltz Of The Flowers, etc), a spin of his own.

Starting off was the scene of Clara being led by the Prince to the magical kingdom where sweets await. Except for the Chinese Dance: Tea scene, which featured two diminutive dancers with great chemistry in a series of lovely petit allegro, the rest were ordinary.

It was a tad disappointing that the dancers seemed to be just going though the motions, with some minor missteps and heavy landings, and the Christmassy feel didn’t quite come through.

The second half saw a vast improvement as the quality picked up.

Swan Lake remains the quintessential ballet that tests the standards of the dancers, especially the principals. The technically and artistically demanding double role of Odette (White Swan) and Odile (Black Swan) is perhaps the most difficult in all of ballet as she has to portray two complex and very different women: One trapped in a swan’s body by a cruel spell, the other a villain scheming against her.

Dancing the double roles of Odette and Odile, soloist Syuzanna Pirumyan was simply spectacular as she brought the house down with her exquisite yet dynamic dancing in the Dances Of The Swans and Pas De Deux.

The highlight of this piece is usually the 32 fouettes (the turns get their name from fouet or whip ie from the whipping movement of the free leg, which completes a circle of its own during the turn).

Those familiar with ballet will begin counting the moment Odile starts turning. I may have miscounted but Pirumyan only did 29. Still, her remarkable strength, steely control and grace wowed the audience.

Special mention goes to rising star Razmik Marukyan. At 18, the lanky teenager’s technical precision, clean lines, jumps and turns were a delight to watch.

If you missed the classical offering, fret not as this weekend will see the Armenian company performing excerpts from two of the staples of the Soviet and Eastern European ballet repertory, Gayane and Spartacus.