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Kirov Ballet - 'Manon'

by Catherine Pawlick

October 24, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

Sunday night’s performance of “Manon” didn’t carry the fireworks that came in the same ballet at the close of last season – at least not in the same places -- but it did offer an even, faithful performance by those cast in leading roles.

The playbill listed Irma Nioradze in the title role, and Ilya Kuznetsov as her lover, De Grieux. One would have expected a full house based solely on Nioradze’s appearance, but the house was in fact almost half-empty, perhaps due to a slight decline in tourism as the weather in St. Petersburg becomes more autumnal.

Unfortunately, despite a consistent, efficient performance, Nioradze did not display the passion usually connoted by the character “Manon”. Rather, her Manon was cooler, more mature and demure, accepting the riches that came her way without any persuasive rationale (that is, without the effervescence that should accompany a lust for material wealth), and only really falling for De Grieux when he appeared and begged her to join him. Partly this may be due to physical differences: Her back is not as supple as other backs, making for an arabesque tipped rather forward at the torso and several awkward partnering moments through no fault of Kuznetsov.

Nioradze’s mannerisms were more refined. She was the aged Manon, perhaps a bit tired of her life of men, brothels and jewels. That was fine for the last act, but one saw traces of it in the first as well, all the while hoping she would look De Grieux in the eye, hoping there would be some evidence of internal fire. Instead, hers was more a Manon of the moment – when De Grieux was nearby, she was interested. When fur coats and diamonds were nearby, she was again interested. But the longing for her lover wasn’t felt as palpably as in the last performance of the ballet in August. And her love for material wealth also seemed a bit more secondary. It was in fact difficult to pinpoint where the passion was, and that seems because it simply wasn’t there, at least not to the same degree ...

Which brings us to the other characters. Maxim Hrebtov danced a clever Lescaut, but the show-stopper of the evening was again Natalia Sologub as Lescaut’s Lover. The role of Lescaut’s Lover is choreographically prominent in this ballet – she is the first leading female character to appear on stage, and she dances extensively in the second act. Sologub not only danced, she acted – with her eyes, her face, her gestures. She exuded a sensuality and playfulness that epitomizes the precocite of the era, captivating the audience with every tilt of head or extension of leg. That she transitions so effortlessly between the title role (in August) and as Lescaut’s Lover, and that she was able to outdance Nioradze, at least in this ballet during this one performance, further attests to her artistic and technical abilities.

The other pleasure was Ilya Kuznetsov. He danced against Sologub’s “Manon” wonderfully in August. But during this performance he appeared to come more into his own both technically and artistically. His exquisite feet are a gratifying addition to the role of De Grieux – and his powerful legs seemed more streamlined than before. Although he doesn’t look the part of the academic student due to his height and build, his love for Manon was visible in every movement, and in his facial expressions as well. Likewise his angst in Act Two when she is passed from suitor to suitor, or his despair upon her death was evident and tangible. He does well in dramatic roles that also offer technical challenges like this one.

Andrei Ivanov was a lustful, stern Port Guard, taking advantage of Manon and getting his due (death) from Kuznetsov’s enraged hands. Mikhail Agrest, as always, conducted beautifully.

Edited by Jeff.

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