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Kirov Ballet - VI International Ballet Festival

Program 8: 'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

March 25, 2006 -- Mariinksy Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

An ideal partnership on the ballet stage does not come along frequently. But the pairing of José Martinez of the Opéra de Paris with Uliana Lopatkina in Saturday evening’s performance of “Swan Lake,” the epitome of classical ballets, was an archetypal combination that should be recorded for posterity.

Just one night before the Festival’s close, it was of course with eager anticipation that the house awaited the pairing of the two international artists. In every respect the performance defined the standard for future Swan Lakes in this company, and should remain such for international troupes as well.

Lopatkina is a superb Odette/Odile who achieves both technical perfection and dramatic differentiation in the dual roles, without relying overly on either black or white swan to define her interpretation. Her expertise is unmistakable in each performance of “Swan Lake.” Whereas some are often unable to attain the delicacy, refinement and softness necessary for a proper Odette, so others cannot deliver an Odile with enough punch to make the role realistic and palpable. Rare is the ballerina who can carry both roles, but Lopatkina never fails in either respect, and herein lies her mastery. Its basis stems from immense attention to detail that few of her contemporaries share.

Lopatkina’s Odette is light, shy, frightened, innocent, and exquisitely feminine. From her initial, legato entrance, an essay in graceful precision, she was visibly alarmed at the sight of Siegfried’s cross-bow, and then plainly curious as she peered from under her wing-arm, wondering where Siegfried had gone, fluttering in surprise when he appeared beside her.

Her Odile, in contrast, is strong, dark, assured, determined, hinting at seduction without being overt about it, and just wicked enough to differentiate her from the white role. Her entrance upstage as Odile featured a sway in her hip in the first tendu pose, already suggestive of another temperament, of a seductive swan-woman.

Throughout, Lopatkina never falters in the choreography, and this performance featured a few moments of virtuosity that exceeded even her usual high degree of excellence. Those included an unexpected sustained balance in Act II during the Black Swan pas de deux (unassisted and prior to an overhead lift), and her dramatic projection at the end of Act III. She mimed her tears after Siegfried’s betrayal, and while expressed lightly, it nonetheless remained in character with Odette’s fragile, non-aggressive nature, reinforcing the contrast with Odile’s mal-intended escapade just moments earlier.

Technically speaking, Lopatkina’s performance was only slightly altered during the Black Act, when, clothed in a ruby-studded tutu with matching ruby crown and black feather, she was lifted by Martinez in each temps de flèche, and she replaced the usual saut de basques with piqué turns. Always gracious, never visibly tired, Lopatkina is the eternal ballerina. Her standards remain unwaveringly high no matter what the role.

José Martinez is also not your run-of-the-mill Siegfried, and this is an indulgence. Never boring or flat, his interpretation was unexpected in its casual, personable nature, which was only to his benefit as it added an additional human dimension to the entire ballet, entwining his role closer to that of Odette/Odile. Neither affected nor mannered, and not overly aloof, he seemed more approachable than other Siegfrieds. He was a prince, but a communicable one, bringing warmth and grace to his variation and mime sequences.

The examples are plentiful. In his first encounter with Odette, as Rothbart pulls her back to his evil realm, he repeatedly extended his arms to her in gestures of love and longing, as if to say “do not leave!” expressing disbelief at her departure. When asked to choose a princess he raised his arm in a clear expression of “No, there will be no princesses for me,” waving away the Jester and the Queen mother – but without the aloofness of other princes. After realizing that Rothbart and Odile had deceived him, he again held up his fingers, remembering the gesture that signifies “I swear to love thee,” and then covered those fingers with his free hand, conveying dismay at the deception and his grave mistake. Throughout, his sense of mime and projection gave one the sense that he truly felt tender love for Odette.

Technically, Martinez is infallible. His turns à la seconde were smooth as silk in the First Act. During the coda of the Black Swan pas de deux his tour jetés finished in relevé arabesque – hold-- with a smile flashed each time at the audience. (One would never have known, in fact, that he was dancing on a still painful injury.) Because his long, slender legs are blessed with both hip flexibility and ridiculously beautiful arches, his split jeté manège rivals even Sarafanov’s. He completes four pirouettes cleanly, finishes en relevé and lowers into fourth without adjustment. And as a partner he suits Lopatkina well. A good inch or two taller than she, even when she is en pointe, he had little trouble with the partnering sequences. His timing is excellent, and there was one moment when he seemed to have her slightly off-balance during a promenade, but he corrected the situation almost before it was noticeable, something a less talented partner wouldn’t have been able to do.

The corps de ballet deserves mention, and here it was a surprise to see Yulia Bolshakova appear as one of the four swans. To my knowledge this is the first time the young dancer has appeared in a corps de ballet role since her admittance to the theatre last year. Groomed by the administration for soloist roles from day one, and following an unsuccessful debut in “Giselle” just months ago, she nonetheless blended in with her fellow corps members seamlessly. Katia Kondaurova, Elena Vostrotina and Ksenia Ostreikovskaya were the other three of the four Big Swans, dancing the leggy, extension-filled section with grace and restraint. Yana Serebriakova and Ostreikovskaya danced the two swans with typical classicism. The four small swans, Yana Selina, Valeria Martiniuk, Elena Vaskiukovich and Elena Chmil danced a tightly synchronized pas de quatre, although Vaskiukovich’s stick-like port de bras and stiff arms distracted from what should have been lyrical moments.

Finally, great praise goes to Andrei Ivanov, the new Kirov hero for his recent debut in “The Overcoat.” After viewing him successfully dance a dramatic role, his grand allegro sequences and incessant flirtatious joking as the Jester underline his talents as both actor and dancer.

Less impressive was the pas de trois of Act One. Vasili Sherbakov was sadly unmatched in his energy and beautiful lines. Yulia Kasenkova finished her variation ahead of the music, her shoulders raised in turns, and her movements tinged with a misplaced staccato accenting. But Nadezhda Gonchar’s smooth port de bras and beautiful feet helped pull the trio through the section, her échappé and entrechat sixes a treat from one of the stronger petit allegro females in the company.

Boris Gruzin’s mostly tight conducting was interrupted only by an unknown difficulty from one of the percussion instruments during the six princesses’ dance in Act II. Aside from that, his attention to the Lopatkina-Martinez duo was appreciated.

Although this Festival occurs only once a year, it provides opportunity for Kirov stars to dance with those from other companies, testing both the Kirov’s flexibility to perform with non-Vaganova trained dancers, and the ability of international stars to blend in with the company’s own traditions and choreographies. In the case of José Martinez from the Opéra de Paris, his visit is a gift to the Kirov, to Lopatkina and to the audience. One hopes he will return more frequently to grace us with his gifts.

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