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Fifth International Mariinsky Ballet Festival

Stars of World Ballet -- Gala Performance

by Catherine Pawlick

April 3, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Fifth International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre closed in gallant fashion last night with a gala performance including stars from three international companies in addition to the Mariinsky’s home-grown talents.

Opening the program was the latest addition to the Mariinsky repertoire by William Forsythe, "Approximate Sonata". This was the third time it has been performed on the St. Petersburg stage, and it seems to be sinking in – both to the dancers’ bodies and to the audience’s appreciation for Forsythe's style. Whereas a year ago many in the theatre would have shaken their heads in dismay at Forsythe works (and no doubt, some still do) the response to this piece was overwhelming approval as witnessed by audience reaction.

Andrey Ivanov opened the ballet as the growling walking "lion", and as he shifted into the complex choreography, it became clear the movements were already innate to him. His partner, Elena Sheshina, danced with even more ease and agility than during the premiere last week. A shorter, curvier dancer, Sheshina breaks the ballerina body myth. In a competitive, world-class company, she proves that talent doesn't lie only in a dancer's height or weight. Sheshina moved through Forsythe's steps with length and aplomb, fully comfortable in his choreographic style. Elena Vostrotina danced the girl in the fluorescent green pants alongside Maksim Chashchegorov. Vostrotina is one of the tallest in the company, well over 5'8". She debuted in "Swan Lake" last year, but is still in the corps de ballet. Despite her long lines and hyper ballet body, her dancing felt cold and edgy; she was accurate, but it was difficult to detect any emergence of feeling from her beautiful lines. Ekaterina Petina sparkled in her passages, with well-muscled legs complementing the intricate steps. Petina is a living metaphor for the French twist: sleek and sexy, which adds a nice flavor to this piece. She danced alongside Alexei Nedviga, whose solo was fueled with abandon. The final couple, the lovely Victoria Tereshkina with Maxim Ziuzin, also impressed. Tereshkina commands in any piece she does, whether Petipa or Balanchine, and this ballet is no exception. With one of the most refined techniques in the company, she too appeared every bit the Forsythean dancer, accurate, swift and modern. Ziuzin deserves commendation for his apt partnering and equal mastery of the Forsythe style. If the company administration is looking for proof that star-like talent lies within the depths of the corps de ballet in unexpected places, the evidence is here. The challenge is to continue to offer these opportunities for growth by casting lesser-knowns. The outcome can often be extraordinary.

Following a brief intermission we were treated to Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux", danced by Olesia Novikova and Leonid Sarafanov. The ever-popular Sarafanov looked as if he had just awoken from a long nap, but nonetheless managed a visible air-borne retard in his faille sissones. Unfortunately that was the highlight of his onstage time. His split jetes seemed less energetic than usual, and he failed in the final lift, setting Novikova down before they had reached the wing. For her part, Novikova was the picture of bouyant, feminine spring, light as a cloud in her passages, self-assured and graceful.

The solo from William Forsythe's ballet, "Limb's Theorem", created to Tom Williams' musical score by the same name, was danced energetically by Noah D. Gelber, formerly of the Frankfurt Ballet and here the unchallenged master of the Forsythe style. Gelber appeared as if shot out of a cannon, fulfilling every manner of twist, turn, tug and jump at lightening speed. The piece opened with him already moving, clothed in a fringe-covered bolero-like black jacket and matching pants. As the piece progressed, off came the jacket, pants, and fringe-tinged shorts, until he was in a black and white unitard, still moving in curves and angles. His variation was a demonstration in refined Forsythean technique: energy-infused, abounding with complex movements, often initiated from the hip or elbow, without any considerable pauses. The work finishes with him flat on the floor, the lights out. Gelber, in tip top shape, received much deserved applause for his Mariinsky stage debut, signaling not only the growing appreciation for modern choreography in this theatre, but recognition of his dancing talents. This, during what is his brief return from an arguably premature retirement, is an achievement indeed.

Shifting from the avant-garde to the romantic, the pas de deux from Jerome Robbins' "In the Night" came next, starring Uliana Lopatkina with Ilya Kuznetsov. To the strains of Chopin's poignant music, Lopatkina and Kuznetsov danced the story of two anguished lovers. Themes of violence, passion and relationship strife alternated as the couple danced, both exiting in opposite directions, only to re-enter moments later in a new embrace. Kuznetsov's strength was apparent in his partnering, and his acting talent continues to grow. Lopatkina was lyrical and emotive, although the ankle-length skirt hid her beautiful legs. In a touching passage, this pas de deux ends with Lopatkina kneeling at his feet, after which Kuznetsov picks her up and, she in fetal position in his arms, he carries her off. Robbins' works appear far too rarely in the Kirov repertoire, and this was a refreshing addition that should be more frequently performed.

"Seven Greek Dances" was danced by Laurent Hilaire of the Paris Opera Ballet. An odd program selection, it rounded out the evening's modern side, but offered little in the way of emotion or technique. Judging from his bare-chested, white tights only costume, Hilaire is clearly in good form despite his more distinguished age, but this ballet did not highlight his dancing or acting talents in the least. A Maurice Bejart piece, it contains a Spanish, bull-fighting theme. Flamenco like poses and plenty of parallel legs abound, but in the absence of much substance. Hilaire would be better-suited to a pas de deux from "Manon" or even something more purely technical.

In a welcome homecoming, Svetlana Zakharova, who left the Kirov Ballet company in 2003 to join the Bolshoi Ballet, returned to the Mariinsky stage with Andrei Uvarov, also of the Bolshoi, to perform a classical gift for the Petersburg audience. Their pas de deux from "Don Quixote" was nearly textbook perfect. Zakharova is in fine form. Her flawless technique, perfect figure and joyous energy were well balanced by Uvarov's faultless partnering skills. She completed the 32 fouettes with every third one a double turn, accented by her hands on her hips and a crisp turn of the head. Uvarov is likewise long of line and tall of stature. His split jete manege was clean, if without punch, but his partnering efforts, which Kirov males would do well to replicate, more than compensated for it.  

The Kirov corps de ballet rounded out the evening in signature synchronic fashion with the program's concluding ballet, George Balanchine's "Ballet Imperial" set to Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto. The corps completed the cannons and various choreographic patterns cleanly and with lyricism. Olesia Novikova reappeared as the secondary soloist in blue, her centeredness offering a strong base from which to accomplish the Balanchine choreography. She was no less buoyant here than in the evening's earlier pas de deux, here again moving like a spring breeze through the theatre. Victoria Tereshkina reappeared alongside Igor Zelensky as the leading couple. Tereshkina, always at home in regal ballerina roles, exhibited particular flair in the finale and coda. Zelensky's double tours to the knee were tight and timely. Evgenia Obratsova and Yana Selina were the two demi-soloists, both pleasing and professional.

Credit must also be given to Boris Gruzin for conducting all of the orchestral music in the program.

This year's International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky theatre serves to underline the Kirov's competitive position on the world stage. Its ability to attract guest artists from around the world comes as no surprise, but its efforts to maintain classical traditions while expanding the repertoire – the incorporation of modern works and, for the festival, foreign guest artists in them -- speaks to the company's global vision.

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