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Kirov Ballet - 'Giselle'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 23, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

A crisp, cool sunny Russian Orthodox Easter morning was spent in various ways in St. Petersburg today, where many a mother and child opted to attend the matinee performance of “Giselle” at the Mariinsky Theatre. Featuring Vladimir Shklyarov in his debut as Albrecht alongside Olesya Novikova’s well-developed rendition of Giselle, the performance was a tribute to the growing professionalism of two of the company’s youngest stars.

Despite her young age, Novikova is blessed with a gracious manner that found expression in the character of Giselle. Through ample use of her eyes and arm gestures, her Giselle was shy and reserved, but quickly entranced with Albrecht’s unexpected proclamation of love. She opted for an older, romantic port de bras in many of the initial sequences, a low demi seconde that at some moments wasn’t even quite completed.

During the dances of the First Act, Novikova used every pause between phrases to gaze longingly at her new beau until the last moment possible, which emphasized her musicality and ability to begin each variation without grand preparation. This was one of many touches that made the performance her own. Likewise, during the long “wheel” of balances in which Albrecht and Giselle wave to each other from opposite ends, her second wave became a weak-feeling hand to her heart, the character’s fatigue from merriment already apparent.

From his first appearance on stage, Shklyarov was an impatient young prince, visibly younger than his royal aide, who he waved away quickly, eager to begin his game with Giselle. His acting was neither over nor underdone, rather straight by the book – nothing risqué or extreme to criticize. One had the impression that he was a royal out to have a good time, unaware of the consequences.

Shklyarov’s strength in jumps is not news, and this ballet offers ample opportunity to demonstrate it. The only complaint was a strange spread hand in his sissone arabesques that distracted from the line. When Giselle’s mother entered the scene, he bowed to her with the utmost respect, and his dancing interludes with Giselle appeared filled with genuine interest towards the young peasant girl.

Used to other castings, it was a pleasant surprise to find Islam Baimuradov dancing the role of Hilarion or Hans in this performance. Baimuradov is a superb actor whose thoughts and expressions are always clearly mimed. One has no difficulty understanding his characters, no matter what the genre, and he did this role more justice than it often receives. After finding Giselle and Albrecht dancing together, Baimuradov stood downstage, his back to them, so that they would encounter him before he approached. He asked Giselle what was going on and she repeatedly attempted to disengage from the brewing conflict.

Again later, his excellent acting was a smooth segue into the mad scene. When Hans produced the cape and sword belonging to Albrecht, Novikova’s eyes remained only on Shklyarov, a smile spread across her face, too deeply entranced to allow the new facts to register. She reached for him, extending her arm, paying no attention to the revelation that was occurring. But once Hans/Baimuradov blew the horn to call the hunt, her hands began to shake in front of her short peasant skirt as she watched Shklyarov kiss Bathilde’s wrist. 

From there, Novikova’s fall into madness was slow, at first miming past sequences from memory at warp speed, stunned by the turn of events. The sense of her emotions was more one of disbelief and shock than insanity. But by the time she reached for her mother during the final notes, one had the distinct impression that she was already gone, unable to accept the reality of the present. Her collapse, mid-air in Shklyarov’s arms, was met by equal disbelief all around, with Albrecht running from the scene moments later as the curtain closed.

Honorable mention should go to Grigorii Popov for his debut in the Peasant Pas de Deux alongside Yulia Kasenkova. Kasenkova appeared nervous at points but danced reliably. Popov’s old-fashioned lines, and strong double- and triple-beats in almost every airborne jump attested to his strength in allegro variations. Their partnering showed signs of being well-rehearsed, including successful endings to the difficult pirouette that ends with the pair hooking elbows while she is still en pointe.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the Second Act was Ekaterina Kondaurova as Myrtha. Here, excessive extensions were not to be found, but rather a carefully executed, cleanly danced role. Her natural beauty projects well on stage, and combined with her amazing natural facility, makes for a perfect spectacle. Her spine remained straight in every pas de couru jete en avant, and in not one moment did she falter. She was flanked by Tatiana Tkachenko and Nadezhda Gonchar as Moyna and Zulma, both of which danced with equal strength and accuracy.

As a wilis, Novikova embraced a quicker tempo for most of her sequences, giving the impression of a ghost out of control. Her frail frame lends itself well to this role, lending the impression of weightlessness throughout. She drew applause for the entrechat quatre passé sauté sequence that moves upstage, which she performed with high elevation and a spurt of energy.

For his part, Shklyarov’s cabriole devant is stunning and clean; he partnered Novikova attentively. Towards the end of Albrecht’s trial-by-wilis-fire, recalling their connection in the First Act and, for her, the previous life, Novikova looked deeply into Shklyarov’s eyes and for a brief moment she became human again. One was touched by the poignant ending, a testament to the dramatic strengths of both performers this afternoon.

Valeri Ovsyanikov conducted.

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