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Kirov Ballet

'Apollo', 'Harlequinade' pas de deux, 'Knowledge', 'Grand pas Classique', 'Sleeping Beauty' pas de deux, 'Etudes'

Essays in movement mastery

by Catherine Pawlick

December 18, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The pleasant excitement of a Mariinsky matinee in the winter – brisk, cold air outside, and the ornate, warmly lit theatre inside – carries with it a touch of the holiday spirit, faithful patrons filing into the theatre just before noon on a Saturday. Most of them attend for a love of the art, some for a distraction from daily life, a brief respite into music and visual beauty. Today’s program displayed several ballets that spanned a range of choreographic genres: Balanchine’s modernistic “Apollo”, followed by three historical Divertissements, and culminating in Landers’ movement packed “Etudes”. The bill provided adequate distraction to suit anyone’s fancy.

“Apollo” pleased. If other Balanchine works in this theatre have yet to fully adopt Balanchinean style, “Apollo” is well on its way, if not already there. Of particular note were the hands. They seemed freer, less set in classical Kirov poses. Gestures and movement also seemed to fit the piece. Yuri Fateev is to be commended for his hard work in rehearsing this ballet for the results were visible.

Sofia Gumerova as Calliope was cool and accurate. Irina Golub seemed happy as a clam as Polyhmnia, spurred by a jazzy energy that came from inside.

Daria Pavlenko graced the audience as Terpsichore with her wide-eyed smiles and pristine lines. Whispers of Suzanne Farrell, dare one say, seemed to escape her performance here and there. Her pas de deux with Apollo, danced impressively by Ilya Kuznetsov, seemed to bring the latter to life. Kuznetsov was the awkward new god, being taught how to live, sleep, breathe, by his three muses. His facial expressions relayed the curiosity and naivete of a child, entranced by the newness surrounding him. He was strong and masculine, but boyish. His interactions with Pavlenko made him appear happy in his new human form. For her part Pavlenko was an endless delight to watch. Inspiration comes from her beauty, and her technique continues to refine itself even when further tuning doesn’t seem possible.

The pas de deux from “Harlequinade”, a charming short piece set to music by Drigo and choreographed by Petipa, is a captivating ballet. Evgenia Obratsova was aptly cast with Andrei Ivanov as the ballerina and her lovestruck Harlequin. Obratsova is the optimistic, petite ballerina in pink, every little girl’s dream. Ivanov is a jumper, turner and even a strong lifter. The two were a charming couple and won the audience over.

Boris Eifman’s “Knowledge”, a short solo that was last performed here this summer, is a philosophical commentary on introspection, cognition and the struggle between inner and outer worlds. Alexander Sergeev danced the solo to the backdrop of six men restraining him. All are clothed in potato sacks, suggesting poverty or restraint, holding on to his outstretched arms. As the music begins, they sway right and left, and then Sergeev wrenches free. The piece, set to Tomaso Albinoni’s haunting music, carries deep religious undertones. Sergeev is a handsome young man with great facility. His variation begins as he breaks free from the other men, struggles to remove his garment, and then dances without it, now curling over in shame, now racing around the stage in search of something, repulsed by his own outreaching hand. He portrays the angst of someone trying to escape the limitations of his own skin or psyche, or perhaps the constraints of society on a larger, metaphorical level. Sergeev’s acting ability is paramount, and, along with his solid technique suggests he might fit well in some of the theatre’s larger classical roles. The ballet ends as the men return and reclaim Sergeev into the group, his moment of freedom gone, the lock back on the internal cage.

The classicism of “Grand Pas Classique”, danced by Victoria Tereshkina and Anton Korsakov, was a departure from the preceding work. The pair danced nobly, a coolness pervading the air, revealing just technique, line and style. Tereshkina dances as a queen – accurate, serene, withdrawn. She has technique and legs that are to be envied, the arches in her feet of the sort that Sylvie Guillem is known for. Her releves en pointe in the variation were rock solid, and Korsakov’s brises effortless, light and strong. If they did not emote, it was not a great loss, as this piece is more a technical display than a story ballet. Korsakov’s partnering was steady and overall the pair were strong together, dancing evenly and reliably.

The same, unfortunately, could not be said of the pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty” danced by Olesya Novikova and Vladimir Shklyarov. That Novikova was visibly bothered by Shkylarov’s poor partnering was understandable; while strong enough on his own, he only served to pull her off balance in supported turns – repeatedly. In a pas de deux where supported turns are both plentiful and paramount, this is a problem. Novikova is a young, long-necked, slender girl. In the variation her arms had a floating quality, giving it a soft graciousness befitting Aurora. She has the technical facility to carry off classical roles. Shklyarov shines when he is on his own. In the final “fish”, however, Shklyarov had her face only inches from the floor. Both dancers hold promise but perhaps simply not as a pair.

“Etudes”, for the uninitiated, is a movement-filled essay in overlapping steps, dancers and themes. Set to music by Carl Czerny as developed by Knudåge Riisager, and having first premiered in 1948 with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, its first appearance on the Mariinsky stage happened only in April of 2003.

The curtain opens to a stage with three ballet bars, (placed to the left, the right, and center) and dancers on each one, clothed in black tutus, doing barre exercises, beginning with the first step any dancer learns, the tendu. Each barre completes a different exercise to the same music; then they trade off, switch sides, join together to perform the same rond de jambs en l’air. The Mariinsky dancers begin and end in perfect fifth positions throughout. There are no wiggles or adjustments. The lights dim, the barres are removed and girls in white tutus replace the black ones, dancing in space.

Then we have the soloists. Shklyarov reappears here with Victoria Tereshkina in the tiara-decorated ballerina role, flanked also by Andrei Batalov. The two men partner her in a pas de trois, and the lights dim again. She reappears this time in a Sylph-like costume: romantic (calf-length) white tutu, flowers in her hair, and dances a solo to violin music. Her partner in this section, the Adagio, is Denis Firsov. Rarely seen on the Mariinsky stage, he is a dancer of regal bearing and princely form, a trustworthy partner and strong lifter with a bit of French flair to his aura. The couple complete some romantic, floating lifts together; the style of this section echos the second act of “Giselle” or “La Sylphide”.

Following this interlude all of the tutu-clad women reappear on stage with men in four rows reminiscent of a 1950s Broadway water-ballet: girls on the floor, girls on their knees, girls on pointe, all in diagonal formation, doing different steps. This approach is distinct from other ballets, perhaps due to the angle, or the choreography: it is a pleasant eye candy. Then another section with girls in white tutus doing pique turns and turns from fifth. Yana Selina, although not noted separately in the program, stood out for her perfect double pique en dedans turn; Olesya Novikova (again not separately listed) held a retire passé balance well into the music and then caught up to finish on time.

As “Etudes” seems to be a sort of summation ballet, encompassing regal, classical, romantic, soloist and corps de ballet work, and partnering, it seems only fitting that it ends with one of the most difficult though impressive steps in the ballet vocabulary: fouette turns. Here they were done expertly, which was to be expected. “Etudes” held moments of mastery sprinkled in with simply pleasant dancing. It’s a ballet the Kirov would do well to perform more frequently.

Mikhail Agrest conducted “Apollo” and “Etudes”; Mikhail Sinkevich conducted the Divertissements.

Edited by Jeff and Kate Snedeker.

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