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Kirov Ballet - 'The Sleeping Beauty'

Late St. Petersburg nights

by Catherine Pawlick

December 15, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

It is difficult to imagine a performance at the Mariinsky Theatre being unentertaining or dull. Some could argue that the Kirov in Forsythe or Balanchine works does not impress, or that the works themselves are too modern, too misunderstood by some viewers to be fully appreciated. But that argument doesn't hold when you turn to the Kirov dancing a historical Russian classic on its own stage in its home city. In Konstantin Sergeev's version of the classical fairy tale, "The Sleeping Beauty", one is drawn in by a multiple-act, full length theatrical experience. Wednesday night's performance, at four and a half hours long, was not for the weak-hearted nor for early retirers. And despite its length, the many children attending the ballet remained entranced and awake throughout.

The production holds one's attention. The curtain opens to a tableau vivant, a frozen display of the members of the court upon Princess Aurora's birthday, soon followed by 16 lilac fairies-in-waiting, the entourage of the Lilac Fairy herself, danced by Ekaterina Kondaurova. Some might consider her the master of all things Chemiakin -- she is often featured in his works and excels in them -- but she has a calm elegance that fits well in this role. Her main variation in the first act was altered slightly: after the a la seconde ronds en l'air, instead of a full chasse, she did a chasse to soussus, twisting her shoulders to display a flexible back. Her dancing was languorous, as if every step was a gift bestowed on those watching her. Her closing Italian fouettes (reversed) also impressed.

The beginning of the second act in this production is another perfect image -- at nearly any moment one could take a picture and it would be flawless. If the costumes -- a melange of fresh pale greens and violets -- are not new, they at least appeared so, whispering the promise of spring behind Tchaikovsky's well known waltz. The highlight, of course, comes in the form of the participating Vaganova students, charming, poised, exquisitely trained, who exude a professionalism beyond their years and an understanding -- instilled or innate, no matter -- of the tradition they are upholding with every step, glance or gesture.

Despite a few wobbly moments, Ekaterina Osmolkina managed to present a coherent picture of youthful joie de vivre with a poise that implied it wasn't her first performance as Aurora. In this debut, her pirouettes were solid as steel, her jetes as light as clouds. It seemed just a matter of nerves in moments of uncertainty here or there, never a question of technique. Osmolkina has the appearance of an old-school ballerina, firm in tradition and line. Hers is not a delivery of legs-behind-the-ears and how many fouettes can you count. Rather it is an essay in careful placement and correct choreography, exuding the essence of the character without being overbearing or underdone. She was radiant, light, even, and reliable. One could see her developing Aurora as her own, she has it inside her.

The third act in this version is where the ballet starts to feel long, but at the same time it is crucial to the plot's continuity. The hunting scene is our first introduction to Prince Charming, audience-charmer Leonid Sarafanov, who appeared electric and regal. For this performance, his formerly blonde locks were dyed brown, lending a bit more seriousness to his character. He was the favorite of all, his split-jete drawing significant "bravos". His moments of reverie before encountering the Lilac Fairy exuded a sincerity that suggest that acting is one of his talents. Likewise, his manner with her during the dream sequence was believable, and his partnering utterly attentive. Alongside Osmolkina, he made an impressive Prince Charming, and together the two make a pleasing physical match. She is shorter than Sarafanov even en pointe, and her coloring complements his nicely; her lines are certain and controlled, a refreshing change from some of the show-stopper pairings that have begun to happen on world stages.

A purely Russian touch to this ballet is the orchestral interlude following the third act. As the prince climbs the stairs to the palace, the curtain closes, the orchestra rises on its bandstand to audience level and a violin solo ensues. It is a lovely departure before the opening of the final act, which offers a fantasy wedding celebration, with characters from nearly every children's fairy tale appearing to wish Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming well.

Some of the best dancing appeared in this act. Yana Selina was the sexily mischevious, curious White Cat to Anton Loukovkhin's Puss in Boots. The couple were charming in their feline fits and playful gestures. Natalia Sologub danced beautifully as Princess Florina to Vasili Sherbakov's airborne Bluebird. Sologub can tame her flirtatious "Manon" down to a pure-as-happiness, controlled and utterly graceful Florina. Sherbakov is almost overly flexible, but his small-boned frame still managed significant ballon as the bluebird, even if strength is not his forte.

The Jewels were also noteworthy. Together their emboites should be the envy of every Western corps de ballet - hip high, with only the legs moving. The Diamond variation was danced sharply by Elena Sheshina, despite lack of audience recognition for her efforts. The Sapphire, Gold and Silver jewels also drew attention for their slenderness and sparkle.

Alexander Polyanichko is to be commended for his conducting during the four and a half hour program, and his efforts to help out soloists with musical pauses during several finishes. The Kirov's "Sleeping Beauty" is something every balletomane should see at least once in their lifetime.

Edited by Jeff.

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