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Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadere'

by Catherine Pawlick

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

Once in a while genius appears in a Kirov performance, beyond the basic talents that are cultivated by the Vaganova School and brought into the theatre annually by its graduates. That genius materialized in “La Bayadere” on Friday night, despite a sadly half filled house. Daria Pavlenko, Leonid Sarafanov and Ekaterina Osmolkina met both the dramatic and technical challenges of the ballet with extraordinary expertise, offering an evening of the highest caliber dancing.

It is difficult to pinpoint where the roots of the genius lie, and why, sometimes, the same performers who receive inspiration directly from Terpsichore may give a performance not quite up to par. But on Friday night the muse was ever-present, mostly in Daria Pavlenko’s strong depiction of Nikiya. Beginning with her first entrance onstage, Pavlenko’s strength of character and acting talents were visible through her dramatic delivery. Every one of her gestures and glances was believable and spontaneous but clearly also well considered. When Pavlenko eschewed the Brahmin’s (Vladimir Ponomarov) advances, she did so with horror and repugnance. When she approached him again, chin held high, gaze steady, it was a statement of her own self worth, suggesting: “Do not cross me or you will have this to contend with.” When she received the message of her secret meeting with Solor from the Fakir (Igor Petrov), joy spread rapidly across her face, only to be hidden as she passed the Brahmin before disappearing back into her home. Pavlenko held her own from the beginning of the ballet until the end, and the other performers rose to her level of brilliance.

Sarafanov’s dancing is so polished that it is difficult to fault him unless one focuses on partnering technique. This performance was not flawed by the accidents of a performance he did with Pavlenko earlier this year (see a previous review by Catherine). As Solor, Sarafanov entered, neck pulled straight, head held high, sternum thrust proudly forward. His grand jetes were nothing short of eye candy for the St. Petersburg audience; the crowd applauded and Sarafanov responded visibly to their appreciation by giving more in return. Equally heavenly was the garden pas de deux between Sarafanov and Pavlenko, their mutual joy visible with every step.

The real drama of the plot begins with scene two, where the lucky recipient of Solor’s hand in marriage, Gamzatti (danced by Ekaterina Osmolkina), is introduced. Unfortunately, her beauty and riches are not quite enough for the jealous betrothed. Gamzatti’s sense of entitlement leads her to force Nikiya to renounce Solor revealing all the envy of a scheming girl, rage burning in her eyes, force filling her gestures.

Nikiya’s shock at the news that Solor is betrothed is moving. She rejects bribes of jewels and riches, she firmly refuses to renounce her love to him, and she goes slightly out of her mind, racing from wall to wall; Pavlenko arms flailed, trying to find a way out. Pavlenko’s Nikiya appeared unaware that she’d taken the knife towards Osmolkina’s Gamzatti, who, after Nikiya’s exit, stopped at nothing and demanded Nikiya’s death from her father, eventually causing it herself through a hidden snake in a flower basket.

During the death scene Gamzatti continued her silent evil bent, becoming increasingly incensed whilewatching Nikiya’s dance. She waited for the moment of reckoning and revealed nothing of her wicked plans..

Osmolkina deserves kudos for her ability to depict such a believably ugly character, in contrast to her innocent Aurora, for example,. She remained in character even during her wedding pas de deux with Sarafanov, noticing when his thoughts strayed to Nikiya and distracting him with more dancing, pulling him back into their pas de deux. In the coda Osmolkina delivered 8 Italian fouettes and 20 regular fouettes perfectly.

During her Act 2 wedding day dance, Pavlenko’s clear sense of mime and expression were evident. Her eyes spoke volumes as she stared straight at Sarafanov, disbelief seeping through her steps. When she was presented with the flower basket, a childish grin appeared on her face, and joy spread immediately through her being. But once the snake bit her, Pavlenko’s joy vanished. She nodded her head, pointing at Osmolkina, “aha, it was you, it was you”, in full comprehension of the plan. This was one of Pavlenko’s most stellar performances, and this scene proved her virtuosity as a dramatic ballerina.

The list of other impressive performances during this evening is long. Ruben Bobovnikov danced the Golden Idol with such aptly mechanical-cum-Indian arm gestures, that it was hard to believe he was not a statue brought to life. Ekaterina Petina and Islam Baimuradov danced the Indian dance with fiery abandon, drawing every audience member into their spicy lair. The second Act’s second set of four ballerinas, Elena Vostrotina, Daria Sukhorukova, the young Yulia Bolshakova and Ekaterina Kondaurova, managed to distract attention even from Solor and Gamzatti’s pas de deux with their beautiful lines and synchronic movements. Clothed in white tutus with pale blue half-bodices, the four females executed flawlessly, one of the most challenging sequences in the ballet. Only Sarafanov topped their performances during his variation, with some of the highest triple cabrioles among the Kirovians.

In Act Three, Tatiana Tkachenko, Irina Golub and Ksenia Ostreikovskaya danced the three Shade solos. Tkachenko’s virtuosity was on display in the cabriole variation. Golub’s challenge lay in the high-speed arabesque releves en diagonale. And Ostreikovskaya triumphed in the ultra-slow sissone ouverte variation.

Just two days after this performance, the impression left by Pavlenko remains the strongest of them all. She is to be commended in every respect, and hopefully performances like this will win her the crowds of admirers she deserves.

Mikhail Sinkevich deserves admiration for his efforts leading the orchestra for this impressive, lengthy performance.

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