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Fifth International Mariinsky Ballet Festival

Uliana Lopatkina Gala

by Catherine Pawlick

March 30, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

As part of the Fifth International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre, running March 24 to April 3 this year, three leading Kirov ballerinas offered gala performances that exhibited their talents in a range of choreographic works. The last of these was danced by the lovely Uliana Lopatkina Wednesday night in a program that despite its tameness didn't deter any of her fans’ enthusiasm.

Whereas Vishneva’s audience seemed vibrant but organized, and Pavlenko’s slightly younger, the theatre was not quite filled at seven minutes past the hour for Lopatkina's performance, the house lights still on with people in the aisles looking for empty seats. One might even say the house was 'overfull' for her performance. It is clear from the attendance that she has a dedicated and steadfast following. After seeing her dance, it becomes clear why.

The third Act of "Raymonda", filled with the airs of French aristocratic processions during the age of knights and crusades, opened the program. Applause filled the theatre at her very first entrance, wherein, head held high by her impossibly long neck, she merely walks downstage and exits. What followed was an impressive display by one of the most talented lento-legato dancers in leading ballet companies.

Physically, Lopatkina is the image of the perfect ballerina: tall, lithe, long of limb and neck, emanating grace, never awkward. The most musical of any Mariinsky dancer currently in the company, arguably more musical than many dancers worldwide, she has an innate understanding of music, rhythm, melody. She feels the music, adjusting her speed and steps so as to never be late or early. Her strength, as is understandable for a tall ballerina, lies in adagio. She has no difficulty transforming any slow movement into one long continuous line, never stopping. Where others would be late, early, or simply ungraceful, she is not. A refined artist through and through, during the curtain calls she even began thanking everyone around her -- the stage hands, as well as her coaches and the director.

But her gift extends beyond musicality. There is a clear intention and sincerity that infuses each one of Lopatkina's steps. Nothing is left to chance, every step, gesture, or pose has been carefully thought through and planned according to the tempo, the ballet, the mood. As much as one might call her an instinctive dancer, she is an intelligent one. She knows how to use her talents to her own benefit, like a slow-moving cloud in motion, ever-changing its shape but never stopping.

Lopatkina's variation in "Raymonda" began with an almost inaudible clap of her hands that initiated her bourrees. Her feet moved in a buttery rhythm, torso gliding above her, smooth as ice, but far from cold. While she didn’t seem to emit any sense of secret melancholy at the loss of Abderakhman on her wedding day, she presented the picture of aristocratic dignity and refined breeding. She was reserved, not haughty; soft but not sloppy. This programming decision was the best of the evening and an almost ideal vehicle for Lopatkina's technique and natural talents. Only the full-length "Swan Lake" would have given her more room to display her gifts.

Danila Korsuntsov, her Jean de Brienne, offered an equally aristocratic air in his partnering and variation. His jumps were valiant, his partnering more or less secure. Evgenia Obratsova also deserves mention for her light, quick butterfly-like variation. Obratsova delivered clear beats which, accompanied by her wide smile, were a treat.

The second ballet of the evening was an odd programming decision. Arif Melikov's ethnic-sounding score for "Legend of Love", along with the ballet’s strange choreography were clearly appreciated by the Mariinsky audience, but the deep attraction to this piece is lost on this reviewer and most likely must be lost on many non-locals. Lopatkina received more applause and audience recognition after this variation, which displays neither technical feats, nor overly deep emotion, and didn’t offer her the means to show off her musicality at its best either.

For the first half of the excerpt, Lopatkina as Mekmeni Banu merely sat in her throne upstage, bathed in red light, while Grigory Popov, the Jester, managed to sustain his ballon in nearly every jump. Sleek and feline, Yana Serebriakova and Ksenia Dubrovina, moved sexily across the stage in their walking and posing. In fact, most of the choreography in this section of "Legend" seems just that, walking, posing en pointe, stretching into various positions. Hands are always held with the fingers together, palms flat, and plenty of bent elbows. Perhaps popular because of Grigorovich's stamp on the work, or for historical reasons, several curtain calls ensued at the close of this ballet.

In regal, Imperial, and clearly Russian fashion, Balanchine's "Diamonds" from the ballet "Jewels" was an apt close to the gala. Here, she was once again allowed room to display her natural talents. Vadim Gaevsky, esteemed Petersburg critic, concludes in his article dedicated to her that "The art of Lopatkina may be called Petersburg neoclassicism." What better conclusion, then, to an evening dedicated to this beloved ballerina, than Balanchine's "Diamonds", which contains the classicism of "Raymonda" with the open emotional space that characterizes a Balanchine ballet, and of course, neoclassical choreography.

Gaevsky writes, "She isn’t confined by the Mariinsky school. She has, of course, a mission, to save that which can be saved and to protect that which may be lost in speedy haste in the rush towards the new or just towards trends. This calling was given to her at the beginning of her theatre career."

She accomplished this in "Diamonds", saving tradition by infusing the dance with poise and charm, luxuriating in the musical phrases. Even her glissades, in transition, were sparkling samples of musical refinement - she rolled through the metatarsal of her shoes in slow, smooth motion. Lopatkina is the epitome of refined dancing. Her long limbs and flexibility are never pushed to the extreme for the sake of the line unless the music calls for it. Korsuntsev, her partner again for this piece, met the challenge with equally good taste, dancing a pleasing manege during the coda and attacking his jumps with vigor. If he was slightly late in some of the partnering promenades at the ballet's close, it was perhaps because musicality such as Lopatkina's, unfortunately, isn’t something that can be absorbed. It’s a talent and for the audience, a gift.

For her efforts, Lopatkina was showered with countless bouquets of flowers and curtain calls lasting well over a quarter of an hour. Even with so many dancers on the Mariinsky roster, it is a shame that Lopatkina isn't billed more often, for there is no one else like her in this theatre, and indeed, on all of ballet's stage.

Edited by Staff.

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