Two Steppes to Ramance

Article excerpt

Wrapped in each other's arms these two newcomers are on the rise in ABT's constellation of stars.

American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky are, in some ways, an unusual couple to have achieved stardom on these shores. Officially , they are Ukrainian, not Russian, and they are products of niether the Kirov nor the Bolshoi, but of the Kiev Ballet School. Unlike Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov--the great trokia if Kirov defectors from the '60s and '70s--they are husband and wife and perfer to be hired as a team. What's more, their growing popularity on the U.S. has beenachieved despite a distinction that could have been a hurdle: They have formidable surnames of more than four syllables (needless to say, they are going to be Irina and Max for much of the piece).

Even if ABT principal Nina Ananiashvili hadn't already softened up American resistance to polysyllables, Max and Irina would surely have claimed audiences' attention eventually, for they are an exceedingly handsome couple with technique to burn. Irina, age 27 and 5'6" tall, has an undulating line and a pert, vibrant personality that crosses the footlights like a sunburst. She has already posed for a Movado advertising campaign that began in April, built around the theme of four moods, Max, blessed with the profile of a silent-screen idol, is 29 and 5'10" or maybe 11"-he isn't sure and couldn't care less, for his lithe, willowy physique and magnetic presence assure him command of the stage. Their initial full-blooded classic interpretations have become increasingly nuanced as they have gained authority in diverse 20th-century repertory. Max, who can toss off grands jet's and pirouettes with the best of them, was a quietly restrained presence in Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels during ABT's City Center season last fall. Irina left her classical training in the dressing room to have a ball in Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove. ("I felt like I had learned another language," she says.) They are relishing the opportunity to dance Tatiana and Lensky in the ABT premiere season of John Cranko's Onegin at Lincoln Center this spring, and eagerly anticipating their first Giselle together in America, on May 14.

Success would seem inevitable for a couple blessed by nature and nurtured in a grand tradition, Irina joined the National Opera Ballet in Kiev in 1990; Max joined the company a year later after a season as a soloist with the National Opera of Bulgaria. Friends since the age of 10, they were married in 1993 while on a gig with one of those roaming troupes that periodically emerged from Russia with that magic word, "Bolshoi," loosely attached. This tour and others with the Kiev company amply demonstrated what they had already suspected: Life in the West was infinitely better than life in the Ukraine or Russia or anywhere else behind the Urals. To add to their dissatisfaction, the artistic stagnation that had settled like smog over the Soviet Union in the 1930s under Stalin had never completely lifted after the USSR collapsed in the 1990s. Although they were dancing most of the classics in Kiev, where they had become principals, they had to approach these roles as a matter of technique and rarely of characterization.

"You were taught the angle at which to hold the flowers," Max says of the coaching he had been given as Albrecht in Giselle. You were taught how to manage the cloak. But you never worked on how Albrecht really feels about Giselle in Act I. Is he a playboy? Is he mean? Is he sincere but thoughtless? And how do you show this? That is what interested me." Max later joined John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet-a mistake for one interested in refining classic repertory as its production of a classic would be a radical, trendy makeover, if done at all-but Hamburg was an excellent place for a gainfully employed Ukrainian to get a visa to visit the U.S. and audition for ABT (as Neumeier helpfully suggested). …