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Kirov Ballet - 'Le Corsaire'

by Catherine Pawlick

September 28, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Le Corsaire” is perhaps the Kirov’s single ballet “production” in the larger sense of the word, complete with shipwreck, firing guns, beautiful maidens and, as their promotional material so often says, “swashbuckling pirates”. Unfortunately for the audience on this fall evening, the pirates were swishing more than swash(buckl)ing, and with few exceptions, the dramatic impressions were lukewarm.

In a 1999 interview with Mark Haegeman, Kirill Melnikov, formerly of the Kirov Ballet, (well known for his numerous performances as the Bluebird in “Sleeping Beauty” in the company’s US tours in the early 90’s) and member of the Bavarian State Opera Ballet, shared his views on the company at the time. Six years later, his comments remain not only valid but an increasingly common point of view for Kirov and Russian ballet followers. Melnikov said of Kirov performances in Germany then, “It could be done with more soul.” Unfortunately the same applied to this performance of “Le Corsaire” on the company’s home turf.

The evening began well enough. The fantastic onstage shipwreck, pirates abandoning ship to the crashing waves below, and a foggy mist that shifts to an opaque scrim before opening onto the main scene of lovely maidens doing split-jetés in a circle onstage. Soft landings abounded, and Olesya Novikova as Gulnara, easily recognizable for her bright youthfulness, stood out from the rest.

Upon the scene shift to the trading market, Andrian Fadeev drew attention to his capable acting abilities. As Lankedem, the slave trader, he was cunning, energetic, playful, and not a moment of his mime was lost on the far reaches of the house. Later, in the second Act, his gesture of nose-pinching as he tiptoed offstage with the poisoned flowers was cleverly comical, a nice touch.

But where was the panache of Farukh Ruzimatov as Ali, and Altynai Assylmuratova as Medora? Where was the expression in Conrad’s depiction of the shipwreck? The spark in the cabriole manège in the character sequence of the Corsaire’s grotto? Medora’s angst at being captured, her joy at reuniting with her love? Sadly these elements were absent from the ballet on Wednesday night, despite adequate levels of technical proficiency and the above-mentioned dramatic talents.

Leeway may perhaps be granted for the casting changes if they had been last minute, which is difficult to determine -- long billed as Irma Nioradze in the role of Medora with Sofia Gumerova as Gulnara, in fact Gumerova danced Medora to Olesya Novikova’s Gulnara. Unfortunately, Novikova overshadowed Gumerova in every way, leading to a lopsided feeling.

Gumerova has been noted before by this viewer, and by others, for her coolness. This evening was not an exception. Gifted with exquisite legs, and well-trained, she doesn’t manage to deliver any internal feelings externally. If she is feeling joy or sorrow, it is hard to feel it with her. In this performance that lack of feeling, or rather misplaced emotion, was evident from her first entrance,which was marred by a strange smile as she danced among the slave traders. Against Novikova’s energetic dancing and appropriate vibrancy, this formed a strong contrast.

Novikova’s strongly-centered torso was evident throughout. Her ease of delivery can be relegated to this firm technical foundation. Her arms float beautifully from position to position, her legwork is precise, and she has a long graceful neck to emphasize her excellent carriage. For her young years, she has a natural talent (she is a Laureate of the International Ballet Competition), and despite herequally gymnastic capabilities, she does not flaunt them at the expense of the art. Her first entrance with Fadeev displayed lifted cabrioles in which she split her legs, and then a pique penchée, again at 180 degrees. Fadeev’s double tours to fourth position recalled Albrecht’s variation in Giselle, and were as fine.

As with Gumerova and Novikova, so with Fadeev and Vladimir Shishov; Shishov, normally the prince extraordinaire, here in the role of Conrad the pirate, was not as colorful as the role demands. His mime for the shipwreck was not as vibrant or dramatic as others before him have done; hisdancing was acceptable but not awe-inspiring. One wished Fadeev could have done both roles.

But one pleasant surprise was encountered: the young Dmitri Semionov danced Ali with attack and certainty. Gifted with well-arched feet, he managed a manège of split jetés to rival Sarafanov’s and did not miss a partnering opportunity with Gumerova. He completed four pirouettes, slowing to a stop en relevé more than once. He is one to watch.

Among the Odalisque trio, Tatiana Tkachenko approached her jumping variation with energy and strength; Evgenia Obratsova’s petite allegro variation (with gargouillade) sparkled while DariaSukhourova’s long limbs fought to keep pace with the speedy tempo, managing a very high and fast leg in her attitude relevé sequence. The trio’s tour jetés were perfectly synchronized in the coda, providing, in addition to the corps de ballet’s “Garden of the Animals” in the third Act, a pleasing visual study. As is so often noted, this is what the Kirov does best, and this evening’s corps work was no exception.

Mikhail Agrest conducted admirably.

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