by Catherine Pawlick
November 12, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
“Ballerina: female ballet dancer of the highest caliber. See also: Lopatkina, Uliana.”
No one doubts Uliana Lopatkina’s status as ballerina, whether the term has been officially bestowed upon her or not. One need not look at her awards -- Laureate of the State Award of Russia and Honored Artist of Russia -- to confirm her talents. It would suffice to watch her in one performance, nearly any ballet would do, to become assured of her status.
Saturday night’s completely full house further attested to her popularity, and the performance itself attested to her gifts. Lopatkina danced Nikiya alongside Danila Korsuntsev’s Solor and Viktoria Tereshkina’s Gamzatti.
Danila Korsuntsev’s casting as Solor in some ways seemed an obvious choice. He is a good match height-wise for Lopatkina among the male principles in the company, and in the past couple of years has become a stronger dancer. When considering other contenders, one wonders what the results of a different partnership in this performance would have been, but in fact his performance did not disappoint.
While Korsuntsev’s expression, in this case his passion for Nikiya, and his youthful vibrancy is not as easily readable as Sarafanov’s, his partnering is more stable, more reliable. Korsuntsev as Solor is also a better match in temperament for Lopatkina’s more reserved rendition of the temple dancer.
Theirs was a secure, comforting, earthly love, a connection of two hearts visible through gesture and movement. Korsuntsev’s Solor was calmly assured of his own feelings for Nikiya, in no haste to rush ahead, more gentlemanly and less boyish perhaps than Sarafanov in this role.
Lopatkina offered her no-detail-overlooked approach to this performance as she has in others. As Nikiya, she was quieter in temperament, more reserved, more softly feminine than, for example, Pavlenko’s or Vishneva’s more passionate character in the same role. In the opening scene during her refusal to the Great Brahmin (Vladimir Ponomarev), her highly held sternum and raised chin suggested her strong sense of morals -- she will not compromise her beliefs for all the riches of India, and no one can change her mind.
But moments later, stepping away from the Brahmin, she was an innocent girl, drained of strength, fated to love someone she cannot be with; her head dropped again, seemingly in exhaustion over the confrontation.
In the second scene, Viktoria Tereshkina perfectly represented Gamzatti’s spoiled, insecure, wealthy snobbery. Her feelings of disbelief that a poor temple dancer could in fact have more of value -- the coveted love of Solor -- than she had amidst her surrounding riches were visibly more than she could handle.
Tereshkina’s thought process as Gamzatti in the scene with Nikiya was easily readable. Cunningly, her approach began calmly: “I’ll test her and see how she reacts at seeing his portrait.” But, once confirmed, Tereshkina’s Gamzatti started to go wild. Her gestures said, “He is mine! Look at all this, my palace, my jewels -- why would he want you, a simple temple dancer when he can have THIS?”
Lopatkina’s response as Nikiya was not irrational or even passionately incensed. It was calm, given other renditions of this scene. She gestured serenely, factually, and with dignity that Solor has pledged his love to her. Tereshkina (not needing to be reminded of this painful truth!) then begged her again to foreswear Solor’s love, offering jewels.
Lopatkina’s Nikiya at this point tried to leave, as any lady in the presence of a jealous maniac would do, but Tereshkina blocked her exit, offering more jewels. Lopatkina, more out of rational self-defense than any mindless, love-crazy state, reached for the knife as the servant entered. The overall impression was one of Nikiya as the victim, both of Gamzatti’s whim and of Fate itself; and of Gamzatti as the jealous, stop-at-nothing-to-have-her-way bride-to-be.
In addition to the clear characterization of both roles in this scene, Tereshkina brought sparkle to her Act II variation with Korsuntsev. She announced her entrance with queenly poise and grace. Both her Italian and regular fouettes were done expertly. Korsuntsev’s double cabrioles in the variation were done with ballon and height, and his two-handed overhead lift of Tereshkina done with nary a wobble.
Act II also featured Yulia Kasenkova, Olesya Novikova, Yana Selina and Elena Chmil as the initial four bayaderes before the wedding pas de deux began; Alina Somova, Olga Esina, Yulia Bolshakova and Ekaterina Kondaurova were the bayaderes in pale blue and white tutus for the grand pas along with Dmitrii Pikhachov and Sergei Popov.
The Golden Idol was danced to loud “bravos” by Vladimir Shklyarov. Manu, the water jug dancer, was performed by Elena Vasyukovich, who, despite stiff arms and fingers, offered a charming smile to the audience.
When Lopatkina entered this wedding party scene clothed in purple robes, hers was a dance of grief. Her movements were infused with a sense of mourning and a blank stare that admitted defeat as she reached to the heavens for help. She looked Korsuntsev in the eyes only once in sorrow, her energy drained.
When the snake bit her from the flower basket, she emitted an audible gasp to the audience and pointed once at Tereshkina in acknowledgement of the jealous fiancee’s evil plan. Tossing the antidote flask aside, Lopatkina’s Nikiya decided her own fate, collapsing onto the floor as Korsuntsev rushed to her motionless body.
This scene was performed without any sense of retribution or hatred, without the vengefulness that Pavlenko or Vishneva may bring to it, which only underlined Nikiya’s innocence amidst the evildoers, and Solor’s position as victim in the charade as well.
Solor’s anguish at the opening of Act III was achieved through Korsuntsev’s increasingly commendable acting ability. The beginning of the pas de deux here reminds one of “Giselle” -- man on knee in grief, female spirit from other world visits him, they dance together. This was similar, as Lopatkina’s Shade was perfectly ethereal, too perfect to be human.
The section with arabesque turns and the long veil was flawless. In her variation, the tour jete manege was performed at a slow tempo that suited Lopatkina’s long limbs and adhered to Nikiya’s dignified, unhasty character and here, her otherworldliness. Her pirouette into arabesque while facing the audience took a different tack from that of Vishneva: she finished in plie rather than en releve before repeating.
The three solo Shades were Tatiana Tkachenko, Ksenia Ostreikovskaya and Yulia Kasenkova. Noteworthy were Tkachenko’s cabriole variation, again consistent with past performances in strength and style, and Ostreikovskaya’s classical series of sissones in her variation.
Upon curtain close, Lopatkina received repeated curtain calls and numerous flower arrangements, one of which appeared to be more than four dozen white roses in a large basket.
Mikhail Sinkevich conducted.
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