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Kirov Ballet - 'Jewels'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 4, 5, and 7, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

In tandem with a Balanchine Trust film project on the Mariinsky stage that is aimed at capturing some of the Kirov’s finest in Balanchine’s “Jewels,” three performances of the ballet were offered this week with slightly different casts that depicted the range of emotions and dance styles housed within this three-part neoclassical masterpiece.

But before word is given to the performances themselves, acknowledgement and appreciation must be given to Zhanna Ayupova for her long-awaited return to the stage. Following a more than two-year absence, she danced the lead in "Emeralds" in all three performances.

Aptly cast in the gemstone section that alludes to the elegance and refinement of the French school, Ayupova danced fluidly, her warm grace filling the stage. Her presence is so enrapturing, it is difficult at times to even note the detailed choreography while she dances, but fortunately there were three opportunities to do so.

During her variation, Ayupova’s porcelain complexion and delicate features offered expressions of various kinds, from shy gratitude to genuine joy, her every eyelash bat noticeable. Tempered with good taste, she completed the series of port de bras gestures in the variation, and the bourrée turns en pointe – simple steps infused with expressive mastery that only a ballerina can offer. Accessibly human, Ayupova dances with all of herself, from inside. Even when depicting French classicism, she is ballet, classical ballet, Kirov-style, as it should be.             

Likewise, her partnership with Denis Firsov (in each of the three performances) matched old-fashioned Kirov style across generations. Firsov’s relaxed arms and soft landings were conservative without being too light-weight. He managed to look at the audience as he lifted Ayupova overhead in the sweeping attitudes, lending her a sense of weightlessness, and underlining his own partnering expertise.

Sofia Gumerova danced the second soloist role on the first night. The joy in her variation was visible in a glowing smile that didn’t melt the coolness usually attributed to this green gemstone. Gumerova paired with Sergei Popov as the second couple, his partnering seamless, her legs endlessly elegant.

The following two nights, Daria Sukhoroukova replaced Gumerova along with Dmitrii Semionov. Their pas de deux was tinged with romance, and tenderness; if Semionov was serious, he was an attentive suitor and excellent partner, watching her as she danced beside him. Sukhoroukova always draws attention for her long, slim arms and legs. This variation put them on display, the length of her lines inferring the aristocracy of the French court in their richness and beauty. The one disappointment was in the choreographic rendition of this soloist’s variation, evident all three nights. The bourrée entrance, followed by two steps into “B plus” in which the tendu leg “taps” the ground with the end of the pointe shoe have metamorphosed here into a step-plié, and sometimes simply a step tendu derriere – in either case without the tap – that would disturb strict Balanchine adherents.

Ksenia Ostreikovskaya and Yana Selina danced alongside Vladimir Schklyarov in the Emeralds pas de trois on Tuesday night. Selina’s walks en pointe offered clocklike precision, her ear-to-ear grin depicting rapture; Ostreikovskaya shone as always for her refinement and reserve. Schklyarov shone in the jump section, as did Anton Korsakov, who danced the role both Wednesday and Friday nights. Korsakov especially took the opportunity to let loose in Balanchine’s choreography, an apparently welcome vehicle for his strong petit and grand allegro. He looked to be enjoying his time with the two ladies onstage as well, making for an even more personable pas de trois when he wasn’t busy voraciously consuming space onstage.

For “Rubies,” two casts were also presented. The first night offered Irma Nioradze in the leading role, followed by two nights of Irina Golub. All three performances featured Andrian Fadeev as the male soloist.

To this reviewer’s mind, Nioradze was an odd casting choice. Although in Russia Georgian roots alone are enough to deem one the spicy soubrette for all time, Nioradze at this point in her career doesn’t fit that prototype. In “Rubies” she acted well, but a strained look accompanied her throughout, reminding one that this was acting and removing some of the believability factor. Her technique is only slightly behind Diana Vishneva’s – they share the same leg-whacking abilities to the front, although Nioradze’s arabesque and back are less flexible. The overall impression from a technical standpoint cannot be faulted, for the asymmetrical formations in “Rubies,” the sharp edges, flexed feet and timing were all rendered appropriately. But some of the honest energy and vibrancy that should be given to “Rubies” was absent here.

In contrast, Irina Golub’s two performances lent a fresh innocence and unquestionable enthusiasm to the role. Golub danced even with her eyes, flirting with the audience as much as Vishneva has in her signature interpretation. Golub’s youth is a clear asset in this playful piece. She reminded one that Rubies is about fun, charm and flirtation, and that these qualities can be portrayed onstage by skilled actresses, no matter what their personal everyday demeanor may be.

Andrian Fadeev deserves more than praise for his consistency in all three performances. His boyish romp offered high energy throughout the dance. His was a game of “get the girl,” especially with Golub, chasing her and having serious fun while doing so. Despite the musical chair partnerships, he never failed to make his partners shine.

Maya Dumchenko danced second soloist role alongside Nioradze and, while accurate, was also a bit subdued emotionally for the heat of “Rubies.” Sofia Gumerova danced this role in the last two performances, slightly more sultry than her predecessor and admirably managing the challenging series of penchées in pointe shoes.

For “Diamonds,” depending on the interpretation you prefer, there is a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre who can offer it. The two most recent interpretations of this final crown in the triple gem triptych offer two very different versions of the masterpiece.

Characterized by choreographic harmony and a dramatic andante in the pas de deux, “Diamonds” is Balanchine’s tribute to Russian classical ballet. If you could lend personality, sound, and feeling to these three gemstones, Balanchine managed to do so. It is fitting then, in many ways, that “Diamonds” closes the evening whenever “Jewels” is performed, acting as a silent tribute to his homeland that will no doubt continue to outlive the great choreographer for years to come.

In all three performances this week, Uliana Lopatkina danced the lead in “Diamonds,” and her interpretation can be summarized in one word: perfection.

When Lopatkina dances, what one sees is not the Balanchine school but the Imperial Russian school: everything is planned, prepared, and precise. Risky off-balance turns and unexpected hip shifts are not to be found. The daringness of some of Balanchine’s finest ballerinas is not present here, but Russian school perfectionism is. And yet, her performance is never less than enthralling. In fact, it grew in warmth and grandeur, culminating in moments of exhilaration that crowned the celebratory finale. One had the distinct impression that she was an Imperial empress surrounded by her court, as off-white tutus and white gloves moved in unison behind her.

Abandonment is more Daria Pavlenko’s approach. She danced this role for Igor Zelensky’s Gala performance and again at the close of the Mariinsky Festival last month. Her interpretation, while not adhering to Lopatkina’s carefully planned tactic, is dressed with the same freedom encompassed in the “go-ahead-and-fall” attack method that Balanchine embraced and encouraged among his own ballerinas. Depending on whether one prefers perfection or a more human, unrestrained approach, both can be found among the company’s current roster.

Remarkable is the fact that the company spent five hours per day filming the ballet before the curtain opened each night this week, at which point the dancers then repeated everything for the audience. This is no small test of the troupe’s energy and stamina, and they met the challenge with vigor. While one wishes some of the more sweeping moments were done with even more abandon, it is a challenge to instill such an approach in those who have been bathed in Petipa since their ballet beginnings. The result is a Mariinsky interpretation of Balanchine’s “Jewels,” which doesn’t reiterate New York City Ballet, for it is Russian in every sense of the word.

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