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Kirov Ballet

'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

February 5, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

What can be said of perfection? When the subject at hand is Ulyana Lopatkina as Odette/Odile, the descriptions are endless. If “perfect” is inaccurate, she is at least much closer to this description than to other adjectives in the spectrum. Her first performance in “Swan Lake” this calendar year was met by a house packed full of adoring followers and fans, dozens of flower arrangements, and an ovation that lasted until all but her most adoring fans had left the theatre, well after the stage hands had expected to head home.

Her partner, Igor Zelensky, handled her from the start as if he wore white gloves, his wrists managing most of the partnering, fingertips held away, as if she were a fragile creature made of crystal, a precious work of art that one dare not tarnish.

In that manner Lopatkina meets the bill. As with her well-respected tributes to Fokine’s “The Dying Swan,” in many ways, the role of Odette/Odile displays Lopatkina’s strongest artistic gifts. Precision arabesques, thoughtful placement, innate musicality – these are only some of what she brings to this and other roles. To see her dance is to see a true ballerina in complete mastery of her art. After watching her rendition, one would be hard-pressed to find an equally impressive, traditionally classical approach to this historical role. Although each ballerina will interpret the role in her own way, Lopatkina is arguably one of a handful of dancers in the world, at best, who dance Odette/Odile as it was intended, lending equal weight to both white and black roles, and offering a pure interpretation void of superfluous gesture and drama.

Her phrasing is genius. A movement begun early ends on time; a sequence slowly phrased ends in an exclamation mark, her quick relevé  arabesque. Part of this comes with knowing Tchaikovsky’s score inside and out. Part of it is her gift, as an artist, to us all. In the White Swan Adagio she moved like honey: slow, consistent and fluid. Mistakes do not exist in the world of Lopatkina; this too is a stamp of her professionalism.

And lest we be duped into thinking her Odette carries all the strength, it is not so. As Odile, Lopatkina has a mastermind approach to the role, from which, surprisingly, others do not seem to take lessons. She has thought through the steps and gestures, the meaning of it all, and this is visible in her approach. In her very first entrance, a slight sway in her hip into the tendu pose with Rothbart immediately suggests “the other woman”: this isn’t the white swan in any sense of the word. She is pure conniving seduction, with a goal. And for her Black Swan variation, she entered and quite openly acknowledged the Queen Mother sitting behind her. A small but clever detail, for we must persuade not just the Prince, but his Mother as well.

Minor choreographic changes were noted in this performance. During the White Swan Adagio, no doubt due to Zelensky’s old back injury, the series of lifts following the downstage diagonal (hops in arabesque plié) were replaced by an attitude promenade. And during the Black Swan pas de deux, instead of saut de basque on the third pass, Lopatkina chose to do piqué turns.

Other talented creatures, if not heavenly then equally worthy of the limelight, graced the stage along with her. Maxim Ziuzin danced a near perfect Pas de Trois in the First Act with Elena Sheshina and Yulia Kassenkova. Zuizin’s lines are better than many others, and the only regret is that he does not yet play with the audience emotionally as others of his talent do. He could exude more self-confidence and it would only benefit his performances. Sheshina’s beats impressed, and Kassenkova danced well, but how refreshing would it be if two yet unexposed dancers were offered similar roles, as this duo is, of late, most frequently cast in the Pas de Trois.

Grigory Popov brought sparks to the Jester, completing all number of airborne pyrotechnics, and in fact holding together the drama of the entire First Act, and the Second Act “princess selection” scene, almost like glue. He excels in such roles, lending an electric energy and bright sense of comedy to the otherwise serious libretto. His goal, aside from acquiring a kiss from any one of the ladies onstage, or (in Act Two) persuading the Prince to choose a bride, is simply to entertain, and in this he succeeds.

In Act Two, among the four Large Swans, my eyes were drawn to Yekaterina Kondaurova. Noticeable immediately for her spot of red hair, and for being the tallest of the four, her épaulement extended appropriately in every direction. Kondaurova completed movements to the reaches of each long limb that the other three swans tended to curtail, and in this she was set apart. It is almost as if classical ballet is too easy for her: she is so blessed with natural talent, both physically and musically. She deserves a try at a larger role; as Odette/Odile she would be beautiful.

As Rothbart, Dmitry Semionov, who had been off of the stage for quite some time due to injury, repeatedly showed expertise in the role. He danced Rothbart a few weeks ago to Vishneva’s “Swan Lake”, and here again danced the role. One of the taller males in the company with sleek lines, his height and build suggest that he too would not be disappointing in more princely roles.

This evening’s performance suggested competence no matter where one looked, and by continuing to challenge gifted dancers (at any level of the company roster) with more demanding roles, these Kirov talents will continue to blossom and reach new heights in their artistic careers.

Alexander Polyanichko conducted quite attentively.

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