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Kirov Ballet - 'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

May 17, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

The second “Swan Lake” of the White Nights Festival greeted theater-goers on Tuesday night as a completely different and unique cast took to the stage. Ilya Kuznetsov paired with Elena Vostrotina as Prince Siegfried and Odette/Odile respectively to Dmitrii Klimov’s rarely cast Rothbart.

While not Vostrotina’s first exposure to the dual swan role, this reviewer has not watched her perform it in well over a year. As one of Elena Evteeva’s charges, Vostrotina is one of the younger generation who has been influenced by the extensions of Sylvie Guillem and the extremes of Forsythean choreography; arguably the first generation to break rank with the older traditions of the Vaganova School’s refined style in favor of more acrobatic ballet.

Based on physical attributes and capabilities, Vostrotina is one of those who belongs to this discipline – that of long slim legs, exaggerated hyperextension, and legs that actually go behind the ear. But the challenge is to withhold judgement until the dancer in question has had a chance to demonstrate his or her dissection of the most classical of warhorse ballets: “Swan Lake”.

Compared to Lopatkina’s careful approach, Vostrotina’s dissection was minimal at best. She was thankfully generally restrained in her delivery – legs were kept, mostly, to a tasteful level – but the result was a surface area, by-the-book rendition of the dual Swan personalities that didn’t have much depth or dramatic impact either way.

Despite her clear acting efforts, one could not sense the fragility or fear in Vostrotina’s Odette, and her under-the-wing pose departed from typical swan positions, offering a strange angle of neck that gave cause for wonder. The sauciness of Odile’s character, despite the presence of accurate, sharp legwork, was lost here. In sum, this was a choreographic rendition of Odette/Odile with minimal emotional projection.

On the one hand, compared with virtually any western ballerina, Vostrotina deserves a gold medal for her technical accomplishments in this role. She managed twenty-nine fouettes and remained strong throughout all three acts of the evening. But on the other hand, technique alone does not a ballerina make. In some ways she reminds one of the young Julie Kent: blessed with beautiful legs but minimal dramatic ability. She seems Balanchinean – able to attack the steps, but void of significant, visible internal plot which is crucial in a ballet such as this.

Kuznetsov is not commonly cast as Prince Siegfried, nor is Klimov a frequent Rothbart, but both did more than justice to their roles. Kuznetsov is the consummate actor – he does a wonderfully boyish Albrecht, an effective De Grieux in “Manon”, and here a splendidly naïve (and slightly spoiled) Siegfried. Kuznetsov’s healthy musculature in his legs and beautiful feet make his grand allegro particularly pleasing to watch.

This evening he appeared nervous only during his own variation, but once it was finished, only his infectious smile was needed to erase the short-lived moment of doubt. His partnering of Vostrotina, as with every other female, is almost uncontested in the company. The lifts may be difficult, but he accomplishes them every time and one never sees the strain or effort involved.

Klimov was also pleasing as Rothbart. His allegro is well-defined and accurate, and he has mastered the evil glance and gesture requisite of the role. The only criticism might reside in his stature – Kuznetsov is significantly taller, which only in this particular onstage pairing dwarfed the effectiveness of the powerful evil villain within the libretto.

Grigorii Popov repeated his lively, comic role as the Jester this evening, throwing any number of tours or turns to the audience in a delightfully entertaining manner. In many ways this role is a lifesaver during the longer dancing sections of “Swan Lake”, but a taxing one for the dancer with its incessant grand allegro sequences. Popov met the challenge with energy to spare and deserves continued accolades for his sparkling onstage persona that not all company members can replicate.

The corps de ballet would have been a pristine vision of lakeside swans if it were not for the unfortunate but not surprising distraction that came in the person of Alina Somova as one of the four Large Swans. Whether during the pas de quatre or when supposedly standing in formation, Somova consistently broke rank with stray, unaligned arms, overly lifted chin and unruly extensions (her arabesque and her a la seconde seem to be the same pose).

Despite the fact that she was invited to dance Odette/Odile in Vienna just a week ago, her inability to adhere to the basic tenets of classical ballet technique serves as an eyesore among the rest of the corps de ballet. One hopes that her difficulties with these basics will not result in continued tours when more deserving company members would better uphold the Kirov name abroad.

Lightening the load was the uplifting Spanish dance in the second act. Here Alexander Sergeev repeated the wonders of his Friday night charisma alongside Lira Khuslamova, a newcomer to the role and (seemingly) to the stage. As the second couple, Islam Baimuradov and Polina Rassadina offered equal appeal in their fiery dancing as well.

Alex Nedvega and Yana Selina repeated their enthusiastic Neopolitan dance, while Keren Johannisian paired with Ksenia Dubrovina for a reserved rendition of the Hungarian dance.

Still different casts of “Swan Lake” will be danced later this month on May 21 and 29.

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