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Kirov Ballet - VI International Ballet Festival

Program 9: Closing Night Gala Concert

by Catherine Pawlick

March 26, 2006 -- Mariinksy Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The final night of this year’s Mariinsky Festival featured a four-part “Gala Concert” of divertissements with international guest artists that culminated in the final section of Balanchine’s “Jewels”.

As if to answer some silent prayers, Alexei Miroshnichenko’s intriguing “Du Cote du Chez Swan” greeted the public for the second time since its premiere on March 21 as the gala evening’s opener. With composer Leonid Desyatnikov himself gracing one of the two pianos, and featuring Olesya Novikova and Alexander Sergeev, the piece progressed in adherence to Miroshnichenko’s choreographic and musical intentions, despite his absence from the bows (he is setting a new work in Belgium at present). Even a minor slip by Novikova in the downstage area did not detract from the almost hypnotizing nature of the piece’s movement and set design. Each subsequent viewing of Miroshnichenko’s creation uncovers something new. This time Novikova appeared the bird-cum-mannequin, her red lips and Guillem-like wig suggestive of a wind-up ballet doll. Sergeev was equally expressive in his avian manner. His timing and attention to detail were unfailing.

It should be noted that Olesya Novikova danced more frequently throughout the Festival than any other male or female dancer. She appeared in the premiere of “Ondine” as one of the leading naiads; as Kitri in “Don Quixote” with Matteiu Ganio of the Opera de Paris; as one of the fairies in “Sleeping Beauty”; in the premiere of “Du Cote”, with Tsiskaridze in “Rubies” for his benefit; and again twice in this evening’s performance. To those who debate her talents, they can look to her participation in this Festival as testament to her stamina, strength, talent, determination and beauty. For all of these she deserves both recognition and praise.

Igor Zelensky appeared thrice in the Festival: twice tonight in addition to his own benefit performance. Thus his “Concerto Grosso” solo, created for him by Alla Sigalova, reappeared tonight. An ode to the technological age, “Grosso” features Zelensky in black turtleneck, pants, and ski cap, dancing on a stage devoid of sets and backdrop and exposed to the far reaches of the theatre wall. During the piece, the wing drapery is lowered, and later the metal light racks, pushing Zelensky into the lower eighth of stage space. His solo, performed to the religious overtones of Handel’s “Opus No. 6”, exhibited a contemplative mood as he shifted through various movements, pulling at his shirt, pausing in different poses, performing an arabesque penche. As he pushed his hands through his blonde hair, he was at once pensive and playful. The first movement of the piece is more somber, and following a pause it shifts to a quicker tempo in which he is bathed in a rectangle of light projected from overhead. Throughout the dance, one has the sense of contained intensity: that his energies are released, but not quite fully through the movement; that something inside remains about to be expressed. Sigalova’s genius lies in the seed that her creation plants within the viewer. The mind searches for meaning and cohesion, and each viewer’s interpretation may be different from the next.

In a special treat from the ballet gods, Alexei Ratmansky’s much missed “Cinderella” pas de deux returned to our stage as the third piece on the program, with Diana Vishneva and Andrei Mercuriev paired together to depict the modern version of this classical fairytale – or at least, a piece of it. If an ideal role exists for Mercuriev, this must be it. His charm, his partnering expertise, his talent for modern movement and his acting abilities all find ample means for expression in Ratmansky’s choreography. Vishneva too seemed to have benefited from her recent time off. Smile ablaze, extensions floating, she was clearly the girl lost in the ballroom as she stopped each passerby demanding to know the time. To Prokofiev’s dance-inciting score, the pair moved through modern step combinations, Mercuriev supporting Vishneva with impeccable timing, inclusive of an overhead toss that culminated in a fish dive. The pas de deux was nothing less than magnificent.

A gala would not be a gala without including the fanfare of the “Black Swan Pas De Deux”.  Agnes Letestu joined Jose Martinez (Siegfried) and Stephane Phavorin (Rothbart) in an excerpt from Nureyev’s version of the classic. In this staging, Rothbart’s greater presence in the dance lends clarity to the libretto even when excerpted. He pulls Odile away from Siegfried repeatedly, whispering in her ear and participating equally in the pas de trois in terms of partnering; he even has his own variation. Upon seeing the male variations, it becomes quickly clear that the choreography is Nureyev’s: plenty of jumps and turns for the boys.

However, the alterations Nureyev made to the female sections feel like a shoe one size too big: it simply does not fit. Here Odile does an allonge from the initial tendu passé to releve sequence, which to my eyes stunted the flow of the dance. And while Letestu danced the entire section with attentiveness and grace, and completed the 32 fouettes with double turns inserted on time, she appeared visibly tired during the performance, and the audience noted this in their more diluted applause. As this pas de deux is centered on the ballerina’s energies, the result was a watered down performance. It must be noted however, that Martinez’s experience partnering Letestu was visible in their pas de deux. He knew instinctively where her balance would be, making for smooth transitions throughout.

For the second time during the Festival, Alina Cojocaru returned from London, this time dancing with long time partner Johan Kobberg in the pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. Cojocaru’s interpretation was marked by fluidity and flirtation with her lover. Kobberg, as De Grieux, danced equally passionately, the chemical draw between the pair visible through their emotive joy. This was not a side of Cojocaru present in her “Sleeping Beauty” performance last week, nor should it have been. The roles are entirely different, but Cojocaru seems more at home in expressive dramatic roles such as this than in the restrained classicism of Petipa.

Taking dance into the realm of the abstract, Uliana Lopatkina and Ilya Kuznetsov performed Hans Van Manen’s “Trois Gnossiennes” to Erik Satie’s haunting composition played onstage by Olga Khoziainova. The piece is brief and laden with somber overtones. Use of momentum turned into choreographic play here as Kuznetsov maneuvered Lopatkina with her flexed foot in the palm of his hand or shifted her from side to side in an exploration of weight changes. She was clothed in a simple periwinkle leotard dress and pointe shoes, he in blue tights and bare chest. The blue backdrop continued the color theme, suggestive of water and fluidity. The mind longs to form a cohesive meaning from the choreography, but without choreographer’s notes or libretto to refer to, one was left only with the possibilities of the imagination and the beautiful forms that the two dancers created together onstage.

The Grand Pas from “Don Quixote” followed, featuring Novikova once again, this time even more in her element, alongside Leonid Sarafanov. The two dancers are an ideal pair for this pas de deux with its feats of virtuosity and opportunities for spice and excitement.

However, the mood was dampened when, in an unsettling arrangement, the entrance of the demi soloists was reconstructed, misaligning the piece with traditional Mariinsky (or Bolshoi) excerpts from this pas de deux. The six corps members appeared onstage in irregular numbers: first two, and then three, and then one dancer alone, which was Alina Somova. The administration had altered the original format of this excerpted piece in order to proffer Somova a solo. She performed the first variation ahead of Sarafanov and Novikova, (only these three variations were danced) and appeared onstage as the single member of the corps de ballet along with the long line of international guest artists during the curtain calls.

Aside from several moments of partnering instability on Sarafanov’s side, the pas de deux with Novikova went off smoothly. (He pulled her off her leg in a promenade and only her flexibility and hyper-extension kept her on balance. Further, in the overhead lift to the fish dive, he fumbled with her at length, to the point that the conductor pulled an extended legato phrasing to help him out.)

Novikova’s bright fouettes finished graciously without being overdone. She shined, but the audience barely applauded her efforts for reasons unknown. Sarafanov drew his usual accolades from the audience for his own solo work during the variation. His turns, tours and jumps remain nearly incomparable on this stage, as well as on stages worldwide. He continues to rise in stardom.

The performance concluded with a repeat of Thursday night’s “Diamonds” featuring the same cast of Igor Zelensky and Daria Pavlenko. Just as they had done earlier, the pair drew a sweeping pas de deux to the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s “Third Symphony in D Major”. Pavlenko exuded unprecedented warmth in every step and glance. Hers is a more Balanchinean approach to, appropriately, a very Balanchinean role. She has learned the key to an off-balance allonge; she has mastered the challenging sauté, pas de chat, soutenu arabesque manege. While not a technician by nature, her exposure to this role has given her more room to emote, and tonight the emotions ran high. In contrast, Zelensky’s portrayal was more subdued, but he was a reliable partner who closed the evening and the festival with aplomb and nobility.

The many participants in this year’s Festival deserve gratitude and lofty praises from those upon whom their great gifts were bestowed – the spectators. High expectations were met and even exceeded as St. Petersburg featured the best that the world of classical ballet has to offer under one roof. Whether the Mariinsky Theatre closes its doors for renovation this fall or next year, the dancers should know that their audience will not leave them so long as the love and dedication on display during these ten dance-filled days continue to exist deep inside their hearts.

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