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Vaganova Academy Graduation Performance

by Catherine Pawlick

June 6, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

To a parent and sibling filled audience, the 263rd graduating class of the Vaganova Academy, currently under the directorship of former Kirov ballerina Altynai Asylmuratova, performed on the Mariinsky stage several times this week. Moments of promise were sprinkled in among glimpses of overdone egos and frazzled nerves during the three and a half-hour trial.

The pressure for every dancer was 'on'. These performances help determine who will receive contracts within the Mariinsky Ballet, those who will find employment in other local companies and those who may have to look abroad or into other forms of dance altogether. A dancer's graduation performance can be the start of a promising career or can be a signal that he/she should look for backup methods of employment.

Divided into three acts with two half-hour intermissions, the first graduation performance on June 6 included ten ballet excerpts beginning with "Exprompt", set to Prokofiev's music with choreography by Larionova. This cosy piece featured the youngest dancers on stage this afternoon, (not current graduates) as part of the corps de ballet, to the backdrop of Olga Smirnova alongside Victor Lebedev, both also members of the younger classes. Blessed with a gangly slenderness all, their spirits were devoted and giving, ready to please. Smirnova displayed commendable epaulement, although she gushed more than necessary during her reverence. There is something about young talent overacting in moments when sincerity are more appreciated – this was an example -- that dims one's enthusiasm.

[This cosy piece featuring not graduates but rather some of the youngest dancers as the corps de ballet as the backdrop for Olga Smirnova and Victor Lebedev, both also of the younger classes.]

The second excerpt was from Kuzmina and Markova's "Duet" to the music of Mozart. Marina Kanno of Japan and Andrei Ermakov, both of the graduating class moved through the funky choreography with interest. Kanno was flexible but her physique lacked a sense of length; Ermakov showed elasticity in his jumps, and seemed an obvious contender for a spot in the company.

The hauntingly beautiful seventh waltz from Chopin's "Chopiniana" (known in the West as "Les Sylphides") was danced beautifully by the promising Ekaterina Ploshkina, who still has one year left until graduation, and Nikolai Koripaev, who finishes the Academy this year. Ploshkina's doll-like features and delicate graceful movements were a heavenly match for Chopin's score. She didn't rush her phrasing and her walks on demi-pointe had professional polish. Koripaev was a very strong lifter, a reliable partner, but his individual jumps and ballon left room for improvement.

Wagner's "Valkiri", choreographed by former dancer Sergei Vikulov, is a combination of thestrength of Spartacan women and the punch of modern dance in unitards. Liobov Kozharskaya led the running, jumping and kicking around the stage followed by four members of the older classes. Kozharskaya's strength and supple frame were apparent through her light jetes and suspended saut-de-basques. She is another natural talent.

The pas de six from the ballet "Markitantka", choreographed by Saint Leon, and Bournonville-esque in flavor was danced by Namixo Maeda and Philippe Stepin to the backdrop of Anna Lavrinenko, Elena Silyakova, Marina Nikolaeva and Roui Tamai. Maeda is the smallest of small,with a cute smile and tiny proportions. She is slight, but her technique is secure enough that she added a layer of emotional allure. A highlight came from the second variation, danced by either Lavrinenko or Silyakova or Nikolaeva (it wasn't explicitly stated in the program – my best guess is Lavrinenko as she appeared later and also impressed). She was the pleasantest of them all in technique, line and _expression. This ballet is a mini treasure and one that should be pulled from the archives more often.

Following the first intermission we watched the pas de deux from "The Fairy Doll". Sergei Legat created this ballet to Drigo's music, and it was featured extensively in the Kirov Ballet's 1991 U.S. tours, but somehow since then has faded from the repertoire both at home and abroad. It is an exquisitely charming piece that features two mimes competing for the attention of a fairy doll in a big pink tutu. Svetlana Bekk, with one year left until her graduation, danced the piece with dramatic flair and a strong technical base. The two mimes, Pavel Maslennikov and Valentine Levagin, were devoted suitors. The choreography here is more intricate partnering than pyrotechnics, but offers a good forum for budding talents (or polished ones) to strut their stuff.

The pas de deux from "Faust" was danced entrancingly by Evgenia Dolmatova and Andrei Ushakov to Bach's evocative music. She dressed in a bright orange unitard with a gold space-age tiara and he with merely skin-colored tights, the couple twisted in any number of tangled poses. The first half of the duet is somber in nature and then it picks up, at which point both Dolmatova and Ushakov emitted a sparkling energy. Both dancers showed professionalism and promise.

Ekaterina Ivannikova and Ivan Sitnikov, (the latter presumably a relation of Professor Sitnikova at the Academy, but this reviewer is not privy to that information) danced the pas de deux from "Esmeralda" with attraction and flair. Ivannikova infused her very echappes en pointe with sensuality; Sitnikov is tall and lanky – he could use more strength, but was consistent in his delivery.

"The Gypsy Dance" to Rachmaninoff was then executed with dark magnetism by a number of dancers. Of them only Dina Mazur drew attention for her dramatic abilities.

Asylmuratova found a fine vehicle to display the various talents of the graduates in the final act of "The Sleeping Beauty", which comprised the third section of this afternoon's performance. Reappearing here were Liobov Kozharskaya as the Lilac Fairy, Dina Mazur as the Gold Fairy, and Svetlana Bekk as Little Red Riding Hood. Kozharskaya displayed grace as well as technical expertise in her role; Dina Mazur was apt as the Fairy of Gold (in Western versions, simply "Gold" in the Jewels pas de trois). Bekk exhibited more keenly her acting abilities as well, shivering in fear as she bourreed away from the Big Bad Wolf.

Others deserving of mention were the White Cat and the Bluebird, danced by Anna Lavrinenko and Maxim Eremeev, respectively. Lavrinenko was a warm, relaxed, flirtatious feline, who offered a sigh of relief to the tensions brought on stage by other dancers. One could almost hear her purr. Eremeev exhibited high ballon and tight entrechat six. His future seems solid.

Unfortunately, Princess Florina, danced by Svetlana Smirnova was another case of overdone egotism. Her arms were inconsistent and somehow barely reflected Vaganova style: wrists sometimes floaty, elbows sometimes too bent. She can whip her leg up to her ear but hasn't enough strength to hold a balance, and her lines were not as refined as some others'.

Daria Vasnetsova led the entourage as Princess Aurora, and reminds one of a young Evelyn Cisneros [former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet -- ed.] – she oozes a warmth and unassuming grace that is rarely found on stage. Vasnetsova sports strong, well-arched feet, long legs and beautiful lines. As such she's no different from many Kirov dancers, but her personality sets her apart. Her performance was marred only by several technical missteps: in the final promenade her partner had overturned her, and to save herself she came off of pointe, delivering the final penchee on flat foot. In her variation she ran out of room in the final downstage manege, which caused her to stop, pause, step back, and pose when the music finished, at which point Asylmuratova's head went into her hands from the Director's box. Vasnetsova should not be faulted for these minor issues. Her innate poise is not something that can be taught, and the articulation attests to her own attention to detail as well as her fine training.

The final graduation performance (there are three separate performances) on June 12 included repeats from the program described above with a few variations. The first section was “Chopiniana”, and proved that the Vaganova Academy can perform this classic at a level that not only matches but exceeds most American professional renditions. Daria Vasnetsova led the Mazurka with breath-infused movement, a lovely arabesque line, and a winning smile, missing only some of the quick hops in attitude (before the releve turns). Anna Bocharova delivered the Eleventh waltz with slightly wobbly delivery and Anna Lavrinenko danced the prelude with lightness and almost overdone epaulement. Andrei Ushakov danced his section of the Mazurka with nice beats and a deep plie.

In this concluding performance the pas de deux from “The Fairy Doll” was performed again, but this time by Elizabeth Chprasova, who has one year remaining at the Academy. She is blessed with naturally arched feet and exuded a simple happiness that was pleasing to watch. Her technique needs a bit more polish – an arabesque leg in the coda was a bit flopping – but she has the seeds of professional delivery already within her.

Other highlights included the pas de deux from the ballet “Futile Caution”, choreographed by Gorski to music by Hertel. Namiko Maeda reappeared in this second Bournonville-esque dance alongside Maxim Eremeev. Despite Maeda’s catching smile and accurate technique, Eremeev stole the show. He exhibited an upper body fluidity, clear, airbound cabrioles, stunning petit allegro beats, perfect triple pirouettes and tight double tours – all of which won him applause worth three callbacks onto the stage.

Evgenia Dolmatova danced alongside Kirov company member Ivan Popov in the pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty”. Popov’s dependable partnering made him an obvious choice for the talented young graduate – Dolmatova was poised, graceful and mostly musical throughout.

A slight disturbance came with the tangling of a prop in the “Pas d’Esclave” from “Le Corsaire”, danced by Maria Chugai and Philipp Stepin. At the point when Stepin tried to unwind her veil, he didn’t manage to do so, and the couple was forced to complete the pas de deux with her veil still wrapped over her head, shoulders and torso down to her waist. This precluded the first overhead lift, which was no doubt a safer route to go, but didn’t preclude the pair from finishing the pas to satisfied applause from the audience. Chugai’s port de bras need time to develop fluidity as they still carry the “teen” look. But Stepin’s triple assemble-grand plie sequence in his variation was remarkable.

The last section of the afternoon was the Grand Pas from “La Bayadere” featuring a guest appearance by the company’s Ekaterina Osmolkina. Konstantin Zverev partnered her solidly, and his own jumps were strong but not quite to the level of Sarafanov or some of the other company members. Throwing Osmolkina into the mix provided an instant standard by which to better judge the other graduates. Two sets of soloists were amply armed to attach the corps choreography, but Osmolkina’s own professionalism and grace easily trumped them all.

The Vaganova Academy continues to churn out dancers of high caliber. It will be interesting to watch which of these create names for themselves and what Fate has in store.


Edited by Staff.

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