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Kirov Ballet

'Le Corsaire'

by Catherine Pawlick

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

In what was a second homage to their historical heritage this week, both Kirov stars and lesser-known newcomers to the company demonstrated a mastery of artful expression and classical technique in Friday’s performance of “Le Corsaire.”

Just four nights after her wonderful rendition of Kitri, Elvira Tarasova appeared as Gulnara to Sofia Gumerova’s Medora in this production that heralds from 1858. Tarasova’s doll-like face and polished technique did honor to the roll. Her relaxed self-assurance highlights her professionalism, and both the choreography and costuming of “Le Corsaire” are more flattering on her than Don Quixote’s short tutus and sleeveless Spanish tops. She’s one of the few links to the older generation of Kirov stars -- her expression is never sacrificed for the sake of high legs or faster turns. She is refreshing to watch, a true Kirov ballerina, if not as well-known as some of her contemporaries.

Warmer, and more self-assured than previously, Gumerova delivered one of her best performances yet as Medora. Her trepidation from the first entrance was more visible in her eyes; likewise her joy at being reunited with Conrad at nearly every turn was also nearly palpable. Gumerova’s dramatic ability was significantly stronger this evening, lending her dancing a sense of well-rounded completeness that has been missing in other performances. She completed all 32 fouettes on time with the music, and unblemished. Her pas de deux with Ilya Kuznetsov in the bedroom/den scene was more relaxed, perhaps aided by Kuznetsov’s easy dramatism. And in the final act she was every bit the regal, sophisticated ballerina among the other garden entities.

Nikita Sheglov, as the slave trader Lankedem, didn’t carry the magnitude of Andrian Fadeev’s interpretation of the role, but his miming was clear. Technically he was also not at Fadeev’s level. But where his jumps lacked ballon, his turns were at least steady, and the choreography for a diagonal in one of his variations was altered to be an indescribable hand-touching-foot air spin.

The fire, passion and electricity in the evening, however, all came from one person: Kuznetsov as Conrad. From the very first moment, his energy was barely containable in his large frame. The mime sequence explaining the ship wreck was accented with easily “readable” gesture and emotion. In the famous pas de deux with Ali and Medora, his one-armed lift drew applause for its unfaltering strength. Likewise his solo work, sporting powerful split jetes and untarnished tours, highlights his place as one of the Kirov’s best.

Igor Zelensky is normally lauded just for walking onstage, and tonight was no exception, but he also deserved his applause. His smooth, flawless technique was the perfect match for the role of Ali. Equal in stature to Kuznetsov but more reserved in delivery, Zelensky nonetheless flew out of the wings and easily molded into the role as one of Conrad’s close confidantes, close by and supportive but not detracting from Conrad’s limelight.

As the three Odalisques, Daria Sukhorukova and Yulia Kasenkova danced alongside Daria Vasnetsova in her debut in this role. All three sparkled, dancing the delightful pas de trois completely in unison. Sukhorukova’s long limbs made her variation a challenge; hitting a relevé in attitude after emboités on time with the quick tempo is more difficult when there is further to move – but she succeeded with grace and musicality. Kasenkova was sturdy in the pirouette and petit allegro variation, if less feminine than the other two ballerinas and visibly much shorter of limb than they. Vasnetsova never fails to impress and this was no exception. Her brisé variation was crisp, the smile on her face constant. Only the transitions between steps are slightly raw, and only slightly, because her technique and placement cover for quite a bit. Save for a minor bumper-car moment in the interweaving bourrées in the finale, she proved herself equal to this soloist role. Based on the administration’s quick placement of Vasnetsova in soloist roles, one would not be surprised to see her in her first “Swan Lake” within the course of the next year or two.

Alexander Vikulov, son of Sergei Vikulov (known for his reconstruction of “The Sleeping Beauty”) conducted to warm applause at several intervals.

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