by Catherine Pawlick
May 19, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
When not spoiled with monthly or even annual displays of the Kirov Ballet's prowess, it becomes easy to allow memories of their performances to remain housed in the archives of the mind, everpresent, but perhaps gathering dust, or fading slightly. A delicate "Swan Lake" here, a historical "Sleeping Beauty" there, or even an electric "Rubies", as we saw last fall in their most recent tour -- these are the images one holds on to, classical and neo-classical, danced always with reverence and adherence to tradition. But then the tour ends, the company goes home, and we may tend to forget their greatness, or if not forget, then simply allow the memories to fade when confronted with something more local, more easy to access, or simply, more American.
While we watch "Don Quixote" at San Francisco Ballet, or any number of Balanchine works in New York City, the Kirov continues to strut their stuff in St. Petersburg, doing what they do best but without much daily coverage in the United States. In an effort to change that, this reviewer has begun a personal pilgrimage to the city of the Mariinsky's birth, hoping to provide the dance audience with some more frequent glimpses into the company's goings-on in their home location.
The Kirov Ballet's stunning production of the full-length "Le Corsaire" is testament to their rich 250-year heritage, offering colorful drama, coherent story line, brightness of presentation and yes, even freshness in the dancing. On May 19, they gave a singular performance of the ballet in St. Petersburg to a sold-out house. The ballet was not on the bill in April and will not reappear at any point through July, reiterating the vast expanses of talent-in-numbers that the company relies on. Indeed, their performance schedule for any given month may includes one night of “La Bayadere,” one of “Don Quixote,” a few William Forsythe works (a new addition this year, as most readers already know) and no ballerina seems to dance anything twice. Fold into the mixture full-length operas several times per week, and you have an impressive production line of artists constantly at work on several things at once in the Mariinsky Theatre. The ballet side of that line came to the fore Wednesday night.
The magnificent shipwreck that opens the ballet had left a dramatic impression. If it had less tossing than the last performance seen by San Franciscans in 1990, it was none the worse for the slight difference.
The first dancer to hit the stage was the feistily feline Andrian Fadeev as Lankdeom, the businessman/female slave trader (aka Harem Promoter). With a cat-like arch ever present in his back and sweeping arm gestures, he commanded the stage throughout the entire first act. Arguably he was the most consistent and most clean of the male dancers on the bill, and watching him in this role only reinforces the wide range he has as an artist. He became the money-hungry slave trader, or maybe the role transformed him. Either way, one didn't doubt for a second he loved women as much as he loved the dollars they brought to his pockets.
Our Medora of the evening was Irma Nioradze, technically proficient but slightly less tantalizing than Altynai Assylmuratova was in her very memorable performances in the same role. Nioradze has -- as any principal ballerina with the Kirov does -- an impeccable technique. But she is also a bit freer with her movements, her back less pliable, as she tends to drop it slightly in arabesque lines. Nonetheless the audience appreciated her in the role, and she gave a brilliant manege of pique turns during the Act II pas de deux.
In almost contrary fashion, Gulnara was danced by the exquisite Ekaterina Osmolkina. She displayed an elegance and refinement of movement that stole the show from Nioradze. Her long, slender arms and neck only added to her gracious aura. One hopes that her talents will be quickly rewarded with more such roles in the future.
The title role was danced by Anton Korsakov, much to the audience's delight. Clearly a left-turner, he gave Act II's famous pas de deux a ton of energy (although the stage did appear slippery under his feet for a brief moment) and verve. He was matched energy-wise by Ilya Kuznetsov, a significantly larger dancer with a much wilder delivery, quite appropriate for his role as Conrad. (The reviewer confesses to not understanding clearly the reasoning behind this pas de trois plot-wise (Conrad, Ali and Medora) in the full-length version, as there is no explanation for it in the ballet's notes aside from Conrad wishing for Medora to join him and Ali in a dance.) Kuznetsov was powerful and believable as the shipwrecked pirate, his long blonde hair hanging loose, and his jumps and turns aptly weighted. But for all his largesse, his was overshadowed by Fadeev's faultless presentation.
Other highlights of course, include the corps de ballet. The entrance of the nine slave girls into a circle of weightless grand jetes (shoulders all down, necks all high, and arms uniformly at shoulder height, of course) were a delightful essay in uniformity. And the "Jardin Anime" in the last Act was a blessing to behold. Clothed in white wigs, pale pink large tutus, the well-known garlands in hand, this section recalled the same from "The Children of Theatre Street", and indeed, eight Vaganova students en pointe were not visibly any different from their company member counterparts. The corps at large has the benefit of the signature Vaganova emboites, delivered hip-height and with ballon that easily hides the effort necessary to perform these repeatedly.
One cannot mention the full-length "Corsaire" without some reference to the Odalisque trio in Act Three, the section that displays challenging choreography and a demand for clean, highly developed technique. What better place for this than the Kirov. The three ladies, Nadezhda Gonchar, Viktoria Tereshkina and Yulia Kasenkova were beautifully synchronized, Gonchar's gargouillades worthy of envy, and Tereshkina's pique arabesque-to-double pirouette manege reminiscent of Irina Chistiakova's strong delivery in the same solo.
"Le Corsaire" is a fairytale on stage, replete with drama, deceit, love and friendship among amazingly colorful sets, costumes and dancing. It's hard to imagine any company other than the Kirov being able to match the overall presentation of the work, and perhaps testament to the company's heritage that they manage to do so.
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