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Kirov Ballet

'Chopiniana', 'Scheherezade', 'Firebird'

by Catherine Pawlick

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

Few ballerinas can claim a wide range of dramatic ability, a fact that lends credence to the system of type casting. Especially in Soviet times, dancers were often pegged as danseur noble, soubrette, lyrical ballerina, or otherwise, quite early in their careers, and were often unable to extract themselves from these narrow slots, despite personal preferences or hidden talents. Historically, ballerinas also tend toward certain strengths: the classical technician may have trouble in dramatic roles such as Juliet or Giselle; the long-legged, adagio dancer who excels as Odette may have trouble as Odile; and the spicy, energetic, petit allegro ballerina who shines as Kitri may not be able to pull off more somber roles credibly.

It was with great fascination, then, that I watched yet another aspect of Daria Pavlenko’s persona reveal itself in her debut as Zarema in “Scheherezade” this month. With successful portrayals of Odette/Odile and Giselle alongside a host of other roles already in tow, Pavlenko proved that she can dance the sultry sex symbol just as convincingly as the innocent, pure swan or peasant girl.

As Zarema, we saw a side of Pavlenko that isn’t usually revealed onstage. Here was a woman in every sense of the word emitting a deep-seated self-confidence in her feminine charm. Her lush movements attracted the Slave just as her eyes teased, tempting him with her exotic wiles. The image was one of a high-maintenance queen, dripping in jewels and coy to the advances of her lover, whose attentions she already knew were ensured. From the moment that the Shaxriar, played nobly by Soslan Kulaiev, announced his departure, Pavlenko’s Zarema was thinking fast. Her plan of a secret tryst with the Slave was evident in her eyes as she used the hand mirror as a distraction, the arrangement brewing in her head as she admired her own beauty. Likewise, her dance with Kolb was marked with sly allure, an uncharacteristic spark. As his partner in crime, she was persuasive. Even Pavlenko’s final moments on stage were well-portrayed. Her quickly changing emotions – immediate rage over the death of the Slave and, seconds later, desperation as she begged the Shaxriar to spare her – were never less than compelling.

Igor Petrov, as the Eunuch, mimed a hilariously weak attendant to the harem, unable to resist the temptation of jewels that surround him at every turn. Kulaiev as Shaxriar was a cold and unforgiving warrior, stern in both gesture and stance, who lent an element of the serious to this stormy tale.

As the Slave, Kolb was every bit the attentive, entranced lover. From his initial, panther-like entrance, his extreme flexibility challenged even Farukh Ruzimatov’s signature stamp on the role. He was submissive to Pavlenko’s Zarema, but never lost an opportunity to display his own desire. Their pas de deux was marked by a fiery heat that keeps “Scheherezade” as fresh and applicable in 2006 as it was when Rimsky-Korsakov first wrote the score in 1888. His musical expressions of the secrets of the Far East and of alternatively calm and stormy romantic passions found vehicles in the Pavlenko-Kolb partnership. Future performances by this pair may not perfect the already perfected but will certainly serve to keep the ballet as bright and energetic as it was this evening. Part magnetism, part chemistry, and simply part talent, this performance was nothing short of star quality.

Two other programs flanked “Scheherezade”. “Chopiniana” opened the evening, with Evgeny Ivanchenko’s Youth dancing with Ksenia Ostreikovskaya, Daria Vasnetsova, and Yana Selina.

Ivanchenko’s first cabriole landings tended toward the stiff side, but then became more fluid as he moved through his variation. Ivanchenko has, through repeat performances, perfected the partnering aspects of this role and Ostreikovskaya was the lucky recipient of his attentiveness this time. Her split jeté variation showed an endless stamina and she appeared weightless in the lifts. This reviewer isn’t aware if she has danced “Giselle” at any point in her career, but if not, this pas de deux suggested that she would be an excellent candidate for the role.

In the Prelude, Daria Vasnetsova’s rendition was smooth legato coupled with a fresh facial expression. Hers was not the blank stare often found in the doll-like, more impersonal interpretations for this variation, but nonetheless was still not quite up to the mark that Pavlenko left on the role in her 2003 USA tour. (Recent depictions of this variation, this performance included, reflect the choreographic alteration from a coup de pied before the sauté assemble in fifth position to a simple step, step, which allows the back leg to drag. One wonders why the altered movement, as it alters the line of the dance, as well as the line itself.)

Yana Selina sparkled in the Eleventh waltz, with flirtatious eyes (appropriate, or otherwise) reminiscent of her White Cat in “The Sleeping Beauty”.

The close of the “Les Saisons Russes” program featured Maya Dumchenko alongside Sergei Popov in Fokine’s “The Firebird.” Dumchenko’s light, staccato jumps, quick smile and flighty arms depicted the energetic, magical bird so well so as to suggest this is one of Dumchenko’s better roles. Her port de bras offered plenty of imagery for a bird in flight, and her legwork was pristine as usual. Popov was a regal prince as Ivan Tsarevich, pleased at his initial success at capturing the bird, and putting special emphasis on the frozen figures in the stone wall. As the beautiful Tsarevna, Viktoria Kutepova epitomized the role of the ideal Russian fiancée, her elegant face, light step and beautiful smile creating plenty of reasons for the Tsarevich to desire her.

Both “Chopiniana” and “Firebird” were expertly danced, but the highlight of the evening was without contest the opportunity to watch a young ballerina hone her art in “Scheherezade”. From Pavlenko, I am sure there are only more treasures in store for us. One hopes she will have many more opportunities to display them for the world stage.

Boris Gruzin conducted the evening.

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