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Kirov to stage five Fokine ballets in Boston

"The Dying Swan": 1907. "Chopiniana": 1908. "Scheherazade": 1910. "The Firebird": 1910. "Le Spectre de la Rose": 1911.

The names of these ballets and the dates of their premieres are crucial markers in the history of dance. All were choreographed by Mikhail Fokine, and all are coming to Boston when the Kirov Ballet and Orchestra appear at the Wang Theatre this fall. (Note that "The Dying Swan" and "Le Spectre de la Rose" will be performed only at the Nov. 13 opening night gala.)

The Kirov's last appearance here was in 1992. It's high time for a reassessment. Say "Kirov" and most ballet fans automatically think of the great Tchaikovsky/

Petipa collaborations of the 19th century. Or they think of the great stars of the company's past -- Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina -- and the celebrated defectors, with Nureyev and Baryshnikov heading the list. There are superb dancers with the Kirov at the moment. But except for those who have often made guest appearances in the West (Farukh Ruzimatov and Igor Zelensky, for example, have both danced in Boston), they're not names that will automatically flood the box office. This time, it's the names of the ballets and the man who made them that the Kirov's local co-presenters -- FleetBoston Celebrity Series and the Wang Center for the Performing Arts -- hope will be the big lure.

Celebrity Series executive director Martha Jones says that $300,000 has already been donated by Boston-area individuals, foundations, and corporations to support the $900,000 cost of the run. To her, that's proof there is an audience for ballet in Boston.

Meanwhile, the Kirov is in such a state of flux that even its name is a bit uncertain. In the late 19th century it was called the Maryinsky. In 1935 it was renamed Kirov, after the recently assassinated head of Leningrad's Communist Party. In 1991 it reverted to the Maryinsky title. But a generation of ballet fans had grown up knowing it as the Kirov, and so, for the sake of name recognition, it's currently called the Kirov Ballet of the Maryinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg.

With the Fokine program the company celebrates one of its most glorious periods, but also one that saw it losing its stars to the West, under the aegis of Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes. Of the five ballets on the Boston bill, only "Chopiniana" (known in the West as "Les Sylphides") and "The Dying Swan" actually premiered in St. Petersburg. The others debuted in Paris or Monte Carlo.

Fokine espoused an expressionist style in which dance and mime blended seamlessly and the corps was more than living scenery. Each ballet had its own vocabulary -- whether based on ancient Greece or Russian folk dance. Dance, decor, and music were equal partners in this enterprise. The Maryinsky authorities didn't buy into this revolution, though, and Fokine decamped, spending his most productive years in Europe, then basing himself in the US. He ended up in Yonkers, N.Y. (There's much about him at www.yonkershistory.org.)

Boston balletomanes up on their dance history will recall that there's a local connection with Fokine, too. His last work -- made for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) in 1942, the year of his death -- had its premiere at the old Boston Opera House.

Kirov Ballet "Chopiniana," choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1908, is one of the ballets the Kirov will perform in November.
The Kirov Ballet and Orchestra in an all Folkine program at the Wang Theatre, Nov. 13-16. 617-482-2595; www.celebrityseries.org.
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