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Stars of the White Nights Festival

Kirov Ballet - 'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

May 12, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

Considering how the ballet season at the Mariinsky is structured, it followed that the opening of the 14th annual Stars of the White Nights Festival had “Swan Lake,” the most classical of classical ballets, leading the way. Aside from the sheer pleasure involved in attending a festival opening at the Mariinsky Theatre – and this one the last to be held inside these walls before the building closes for renovation over New Year’s – there was also the delight of a performance suffused with genuine, old-fashioned Kirov style.

It was even more pleasing for the unanticipated, though not surprising, source of this traditionalism. Sofia Gumerova paired with Igor Kolb, as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried, respectively, and delivered a textbook-ideal performance. Both polished performers in their own rights, these two dancers were as close to technically perfect as one can find across the world’s stages today.

Gumerova’s success in this role comes on the wings of Diana Vishneva’s controversial rendition, and at a time of what some might consider a crisis within the theatre. Depending on whom you talk to, the argument that the old Kirov style is disappearing in favor of on-stage gymnastics may be heard. On Friday night Gumerova proved that she is one of the few still supporting the classics as they should be performed.

One could gaze at Gumerova’s impossibly beautiful legs for the entirety of an evening and miss much of the drama. In fact it was a challenge not to do so. Strangely, it was in fact technique, and not drama, that carried her through much of the “white act.” Her usual refinement and grace were met with additional decorum in her approach to Odette. Here no inappropriate battements or port de bras were to be found. Everything was done to the book, only slightly faster. If she isn’t an adagio dancer (at just over 5’8”, Gumerova is among the taller crop of Kirov ballerinas, and typically taller dancers lend themselves more easily to adagio movements and tempi), she at least managed one long, sustained, arabesque relevé, a signature step in this role. She apparently prefers a faster tempo throughout – hers is not a languorous Odette – beginning many phrases ahead of the music in Act One. Quick and flighty, she reveled in every opportunity for batterie it seems, delivering the entrechat quatre sauté-retire passé sauté sequence with diamond-like sharpness and just as much brilliance. Her Odette was cool, reserved, frightened and, yes, quick.

Still only a soloist, Gumerova has danced this role before, but this performance left a lasting impression. And even more strangely, she came into her own most strongly in the “black act,” when, as Odile, she danced as a true predator, not only of Siegfried but of the choreography itself. She tackled the Black Swan pas de deux and variation with shark-like attack. Precise in footwork and seductive in glance, a sense of self-assurance overcame her in this section, revealing the most brilliant of her dancing. Conductor Mikhail Agrest caught up with her tempo in this act, where she managed all 32 fouettes, performing a single-single-double sequence for the initial 16 counts and finishing on time. Gumerova’s shift to pedagog Elena Evteeva must have influenced this performance. In any case, the results are spectacular.

Whenever Kolb dances, the competition for most beautiful legs and feet inevitably begins, for Kolb’s almost inhuman balletic facility is incomparable among the other male principals in the company. With arched feet and chiseled legs, even his initial attitude pirouettes and every subsequent relevé arabesque capture one’s attention.  Here he did double duty as prince and partner, reliably supporting Gumerova throughout and still dazzling in his solo sequences and jumps. Moreover, he acted the moody prince quite effectively. His Siegfried was in search of that indefinable something that he just might find when he takes the crossbow to the lake. Lucky for him, he does.

As the Jester, Grigorii Popov once again proved himself worthy of the role, carrying forth the drama in the first act, and executing clean, high jumps at every turn. The first act Pas de Trois featured ballon-infused Vasili Scherbakov accompanying Ekaterina Osmolkina and Irina Golub.  This trio performed the dance in total unison, their arabesque legs matching in both height and timing, Golub solid and strong in her cabriole sautés, and Osmolkina sparkling in the rose-dance with the Jester.

In the second act’s national dances, Alexander Sergeev (not typically cast in this role) and Elena Bazhenova drew attention for their spicy Spanish dance. Artyem Yachmennikov and Polina Rassadina’s precision and energy made for an electric Hungarian dance. And Yana Selina and Alexei Nedvega enthusiastically led the Neopolitan dance.

As Rothbart, Dmitrii Semionov deserves accolades for his dart-like jetés and evil stare. His allegro continues to be of the grandest scale. One awaits the day that he too will dance Siegfried. He seems ready.

The corps de ballet, looking its pristine, uniform best, nearly distracted from the main action of the libretto throughout. Again, only at the Mariinsky.

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