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Kirov Ballet - 'Manon'

Bolshoi Meets Kirov: A 'Manon' of Magnitude

by Catherine Pawlick

May 1, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

It is perhaps once, maybe twice a year that performers from the Bolshoi Ballet make their way north from Moscow to dance on the Mariinsky stage. Svetlana Zakharova appeared just last month for a vibrant performance of the grand pas de deux from "Don Quixote" as part of the Mariinsky's International Ballet Festival, and later this summer the Bolshoi Ballet is slated to perform two nights of "Romeo and Juliet" in St. Petersburg.

It was a surprise, then, having obtained tickets for "Manon" well before the casting was posted, to arrive at the theatre with the ultimate of treats: the Bolshoi's Nikolai Tsiskaridze partnering Daria Pavlenko, with Ekaterina Osmolkina in the role of Lescaut's lover to Andrei Batalov's Lescaut.

Having never before seen Tsiskaridze, for all his fame and publicity, I was curious how he would fit the role of the young lovestruck student. After all, his looks, his stature lend themselves more logically to something spicy and electric - Basil from "Don Quixote", or even Ali from "Le Corsaire".  Would the soft, nurturing persona be his forte?

Whether surprising or not, it was.

Jules Massenet's ecstatic score lay the perfect background for this passionate partnership. And, although on the one hand an unlikely pair, in many ways Pavlenko alongside Tsiskaridze seemed quite well matched. Multiple curtain calls attested to their polished, well-rehearsed and well-acted performances.

In one word, Tsiskaridze is smooth. He was smooth in his adagio solo, his first expression of love to Manon. A wonderful sense of control pervades all of his dancing, which gives one an opportunity, especially in this ballet, to take in the lines of his legs and well-arched feet. He was smooth in his partnering efforts with Pavlenko, calm, and happy in his love for her. In Act Two's Parisian brothel-party scene when Manon enters on the arm of Monsieur G.M., Tsiskaridze was visibly tormented but quiet about his pain, watching her from afar, awaiting the perfect moment to catch her alone and declare (again) his love.

A radiant smile joined Pavlenko's first entrance and remained with her throughout the ballet. She is lovely in this role, her curled smile reminiscent of Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind", a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Her gaze avoided Tsiskaridze's watchful eyes as she made that entrance into the party, no sense of regret or emotion in his direction whatsoever. She seemed happily ensconced in her new wealthy lifestyle, but upon Tsiskaridze's pleas, it became apparent that underneath she had feelings for him that she was denying to herself. Pavlenko displayed more of her acting talents in the final act. In the couple's last pas de deux she was soaked with floppy lethargy as Tsiskaridze flung her almost lifeless body around him, recoiling in utter horror upon the realization that he had completely lost her.

Ekaterina Osmolkina danced a self-assured, flirtatious coquette next to Andrei Batalov's conniving, often violent Lescaut, and their drunken pas de deux was particularly charming. The poor boys in the first Act did a fine job in the corps de ballet work -- they met the challenge of MacMillan's unique choreography in the arabesque turns, and added a background of boyish playfulness to the main stage action.

Sergei Kalagin, laureate of the all-Russian competition from Tartarsan, conducted the ballet beautifully.

These mixtures of north and south, Kirov and Bolshoi are rare, and are met by some with skepticism. The age old debate about which of the two leading Russian classical ballet troupes is "better" is an argument that cannot be won. The gift is that each of them brings elements to the global world of dance that the other does not, enriching ballet along the way. The key then, perhaps, is in continued partnership between the two companies, and more frequent guest exchanges like this one.

 

Edited by Staff.

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