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Kirov Ballet

White Nights Festival: In Honor of Shostakovich's 100th Birthday

'Young Girl and the Hooligan', 'The Bedbug', 'Leningrad Symphony'

by Catherine Pawlick

July 3, 2006 -- Mariinsky State Theatre, St. Petersburg

Alongside the Mariinsky Opera’s “All Shostakovich Symphonies,” which are being played throughout the course of this year’s White Nights Festival, July 3 treated St. Petersburg audiences to an evening of all-Shostakovich ballets in honor of what would have been the 100th birthday of the great composer.

The evening began with “The Young Girl and the Hooligan,” the enchanting ballet performed just one month ago with the same cast. One could not imagine a more captivating ballet, for one is riveted from the first note until the final curtain. The characters are all well-defined both dramatically and choreographically; the score is sublime and here some of the world’s best dancers combine to create this tiny gem of a ballet so rarely performed.

The curtain opens to school girls dressed in white, with white bows in their braids, “walking” in place to school. Kerchiefed girls also prance by before we see the leading characters. The look is 1940-ish, with the men sporting work suits with slouch-hats of the beret type, the girls’ white skirts knee length and crinoline. The genius of Boyarsky’s work is that no piece seems out of place or superfluous and small details add to the conglomerate.

In the role of the Girl, Daria Sukhoroukova once again epitomized controlled grace and innocent beauty. Her split jetes, led by a deliciously curved front foot, soared soundlessly across the stage, her thin frame almost sylphlike in its movements. Ilya Kuznetsov’s hard-edged, rough and tumble, unrefined street ways as the Hooligan formed a stark contrast to Sukhoroukova’s character from the start. His first solo, performed to an imposing musical section, complete with barrel turns and a cartwheel, seemed as if he was addressing the audience directly: “see what I can do? I’m a tough guy, and you’re not worth it.” When side by side on stage, the distinction between the two of them became even more emphatic. Her pretty visage and gentle movements suggested an untarnished elegance, whereas his attempts to frighten her only underlined the difference in their two worlds. In the third section pas de deux, his endeavors to express feeling and treat her gently finally succeed, but not before he goes overboard. He steals a kiss, is slapped in return, throws her to the ground, and comes crawling back with apologies. He finally tears open his shirt unprompted in a last ditch effort to win her back.

As the young God, Sergei Popov strode onstage suaver than the suavest, the picture of untouchable, chiseled male glamour in his black suit and white silk scarf. From her first slink onstage, Tatiana Tkachenko’s sultry cabaret look was 100% pure sex kitten. Their abusive interlude in the cabaret may be a slight foreshadowing of what is to come in the libretto: the young God tosses her to the floor, more concerned with his looks than how he treats women; and the Hooligan falls into the same pattern with his own girl. Given the pattern, it might be a commentary on male-female relationships at the end of the 1950s (this ballet was made in 1962).

Sukhoroukkova and Kuznetsov’s dance of union, the moment at which he finally expresses himself and wins her love, is a gratifying display of both choreography and drama, but almost too late. There is an element of the seventh sense connection here, for following the scene in which he is attacked, she crosses upstage behind him, searching, as if she suspects something is wrong. Downstage, he reaches in every direction, hoping for her, and yet they are only several meters apart. The tragic finale was as poignant as ever: Kuznetsov wins the kiss he has been wanting for the ballet’s entirety just moments before falling dead; but the look of sheer joy on his face in those fleeting seconds suggest that it was all worth it for him, despite the outcome.

The second ballet of the evening was an even more rarely performed satiric piece by the famed Leonid Jacobsen, entitled “Klop” in Russian, which translates to “bedbug.” The work depicts Russian poet Mayakovsky as he creates, controls and directs the characters within his poetry. Buffoonism and irony are plentiful here, as Andrei Ivanov dances the role of a young Jewish sailor (Presipkin) who dumps a young girl named Zoya (Ksenia Dubrovina) for a richer young fiancée, Elzevira Rennessaince (Yana Selina). Their wedding is a chaotic farce in which the couple is encouraged to constantly kiss, Russian-style. A typical wedding brawl ensues, and the relatives intervene even into the night of conjugal bliss. A giant red silk bed is rolled onstage and Selina and Ivanov chase each other around it, before the entire cast peers in on them from behind the headboard.

Ivanov once again proved his inborn acting talents in this test of drama. Nikolai Naumov, as Mayakovsky, stood debonair and pensive, as he froze, separated, and danced with various characters before reanimating them from afar. Dubrovina excelled as Zoya, her doll-like stiffness adding an appropriate touch to her character.

For “Klop,” no ballet technique is allowed. Legs are turned in and bent, feet, if pointed, are sickled, and facial expressions are exaggerated in the onstage display. Movement is often done with chins jutting forward and rear ends jutting back, in a sort of squatting position. This ballet found deep audience appreciation during the curtain calls. It’s a tiny Mariinsky gem that could be shown more often.

The final ballet of the evening featured both Uliana Lopatkina’s and Igor Kolb’s debuts in “Leningrad Symphony.” Lopatkina’s Girl was filled with the perfect balance of sweetness and pride as she first joined Kolb’s Youth as one of many couples basking in the glow of togetherness. Her initial jumps were filled with lightness, echoing the tone of the ballet’s hope-filled beginning. But the look of anticipation and joys left her eyes as soon as the music changed to presage the onset of war. Her expressive solo following the entrance of the Germans revealed true anguish and frustration as she raced through various turns before collapsing onto the floor.

Kolb too presented the forward-looking Soviet Youth before the onset of war. He then flew across the stage in a series of high, powerful jumps, a bold representative of Soviet determination before defeating the last German standing. Lopatkina’s outstretched hands at the final curtain fully captured the strife of the Russian people and their despair at the great losses in the Second World War, despite the final victory.

Pavel Bubelnikov conducted the first and last pieces dramatically and at times thunderously; Andrei Polyanichko conducted “Klop.”

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