Sologub is Manon's jewel
by Catherine Pawlick
August 10, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
Perhaps it was the sense of joy inherent in the knowledge of an upcoming two-month leave that pervaded the dancers on Tuesday night. Or maybe the inspiration came from Jules Massenet’s glorious score, or Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s fluid, sensual choreography. For despite some unremarkable debuts and uneven performances by stars this summer, the jewels of the Kirov still do exist. One perhaps must simply look for them, or be in the right place at the right time. That place was in the season’s closing performance last night. The ballet was “Manon”, and the ballerina – for she deserves the title -- Natalia Sologub.
“Manon” is of course part of the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, and now also at American Ballet Theatre, but despite the largesse of the work, this three-act ballet is something most West Coast audiences haven’t seen. And they must, for it is a three-hour classical wonder, faithful to the novel by the Abbe Prevost, which details the story of the young and beautiful Manon Lescaut, who is, (in its most reductionist interpretation) torn between love and money.
The ballet’s libretto is pared down considerably from the novel but the plot’s basic events remain. Manon is in love with a young student, De Grieux, but this love is repeatedly interrupted by her competing desire for money and material things. That desire is fulfilled by the rich but old GM (in the novel, the character’s name is M de B) who manages to steal Manon away from De Grieux while he is temporarily absent. Manon’s prostitution is encouraged by her parasitic brother, Lescaut, who also benefits when she proffers her services to rich men. End of Act One.
Acts Two begins with a party filled with women of similar make and held at GM’s salon. Here Manon reunites with De Grieux, and persuades him to win money at a card game so they can run off together. He does and the couple flees. At De Grieux’s apartment the two seclude themselves and live happily. Soon the police appear (courtesy of rich GM) with Lescaut who they have arrested. They shoot him in front of his sister, and arrest Manon for prostitution. The final act takes place first at the port from where Manon is being deported (where the main sergeant also takes advantage of Manon) and in Louisiana, where at last Manon has freed herself from money lust, but dies in De Grieux’s arms.
The dramatic challenges inherent in the role of Manon, based simply on the libretto, need no further explanation. What impressed most on Tuesday night was Natalia Sologub’s ability to meet those challenges. She has the exquisite legs that are necessary for the choreography’s repeated suggestions of seduction and attraction, and she decorated her character with a lightness and feminity indicative of a young Parisian beauty. This was a refreshing visual break from the structures of Petipa and the extremes of neoclassicism that pervaded the past several months at the Mariinsky.
That Sologub hasn’t been promoted yet to principal dancer is an inexplicable phenomenon within the Mariinsky theatre. She repeatedly dances leading roles in a wide range of repertoire. Her performance of Ratmansky’s “Middle Duet” during the Gala concert in June was of star quality. She danced a consistent, classical “Giselle” just weeks ago. She alone can carry Chemiakin’s awkward “Pirlipat” with her ability to adapt to and then master any choreographic form. She is as comfortable in an off-balance Forsythe piece as she is in something utterly classical. It is precisely her wide range, combined with the excellent acting ability she displayed last night, for which she deserves to be promoted.
While the idyllic Andrian Fadeev was originally billed for this evening’s performance, his replacement, Ilya Kuznetsov, was no disappointment. A large dancer – tall, muscular, strong – he presented the image of a turn of the century romance novel hero – long locks and romantic white blouse. His partnering was unparalleled. He performed every lift with ease, making MacMillan’s difficult choreography look easy and Sologub appear weightless. Thankfully, he also matched Sologub’s dramatic abilities in his terpsichoric expressions of love for the heroine. Although and unlikely pair on stage, Sologub and Kuznetsov made the evening theirs.
The evil Lescaut was danced admirably by Vasili Sherbakov, a smaller, thinner dancer who was dwarfed when seen next to Kuznetsov. He was the innocent prince in his first entrance, but exuded malevolence when need be, notably while explaining to De Grieux that Manon had gone off with GM for money, throwing a handful of coins at the man forcefully with a look of utter wickedness.
Although the role of Lescaut’s lover seemed to be more of a dancing “relief” section, Yulia Kasenkova danced it evenly. In a special appearance, Sergei Kalagin of Tatarstan, laureat of the all-Russian Competition, earned his applause for a conducting the lovely score. And the company earned their half-standing ovation at the end. It is bittersweet that the season has come to a close, but this performance ended it on the right note, planting the seed of anticipation for the treasures that may be shown us this fall.
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